Tigers star Nofoaluma urges teammates to move on from Cleary departure
By Adrian Proszenko
10 November 2018 — 8:00pm
David Nofoaluma says there is no point in Wests Tigers players remaining “angry” over Ivan Cleary’s shock departure, although he concedes that task is more difficult for those who moved to Concord to be coached by him.
Former Souths mentor Michael Maguire will oversee the Tigers preseason once he completes his commitments with the New Zealand national side. Maguire takes over from Cleary, who was released from the final two years of his contract to rejoin Penrith.
Cleary took the Tigers to within one place of a semi-final appearance in what turned out to be his last season at the club. His tenure was marked by “on the bus”, a line he used to describe his desire to work only with those fully committed to the club.
Ironically, it is Cleary who has chosen to disembark, returning to the Panthers just three years after they sacked him. Nofoaluma, the first Tigers player to comment on the scenario, said there was no point feeling bitter about Cleary’s departure.
“As a player at the club we can’t be angry at what has happened, we need to move on straight away if we’re going to be positive about it,” Nofoaluma said.
“We signed a coach in Michael Maguire and he seems fully committed to the club.
“It’s the first year so there’s no pressure on him. I’m sure he’s going to do a fantastic job, I look forward to working under him.”
Several Tigers recruits – including Russell Packer, Ben Matulino, Josh Reynolds, Moses Mbye, Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall – had come specifically to play under Cleary. Nofoaluma conceded it may be more difficult for some of them to move on.
“If it was me, if the reason I signed was because you wanted me there, I would definitely be disappointed,” he said. “If a coach signs you to the club and he leaves the way he did, it’s a tough one."
Nofoaluma said “a few boys" would be looking forward to the round four clash against Penrith.
“But we’ve got a new coach, we can’t be worried about that game,” he said. "We want to be playing finals footy, that’s the ultimate goal for our club.
“We’ve got a coach who wants to make that happen, he’s excited for our club and has got a lot of belief in the group we’ve got. If he needs to make any changes, he will make the right ones.”
The Tigers negotiated a $250,000 payout from the Panthers in return from letting Cleary go early. Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe described the addition of premiership-winning coach Maguire to the club as a “favourable” outcome.
“I can understand why fans would feel let down or betrayed. I have got empathy and sympathy for that,” Pascoe said of Cleary’s departure.
“The other thing is they should be really excited in what we’ve been able to achieve in going out and securing Michael Maguire for the next three years. They should be really excited about the position the club is in as well. There’s a lot to look forward to for a Wests Tigers fan or member.”
The Tigers were initially going to make Cleary fulfil the full terms of his contract but recognised the situation had become untenable once he committed to Penrith from 2021. Asked why he thought Cleary would return to a club that recently sacked him, Pascoe said: “I obviously was shocked for a couple of reasons, one that he was going back to that club. He has got his own motivations for that.
“I was also shocked given he had done a terrific job helping the club create a bit of stability and build some real character within the playing squad.
“Coaches and players come and go but as long as the vision is true to what we’re trying to build – which is a club we want to be proud of – we can still all be on the bus.
“We just have a different coach, pardon the pun.”