Back in November when Ivan Cleary was happy to talk Tigers and get things off his chest, he was asked a question about what exactly the joint venture fans were supposed to think when he sat in the coaching box opposite for the first time in 2019.
Cleary wasn’t as icy as a mid-autumn Bathurst night, didn’t speak in cliches and generally just told it as he saw it. In the months since he’s made it known the time for reflection on the messy split from Tigertown is over. He doesn’t care about the incessant questioning and innuendo which will bubble along this week as his second coming at the Panthers stalls.
Armed with multi-million dollar contracts belonging to both himself and son Nathan, Cleary’s Panthers have looked anything but title contenders they should be so far. Yes, it is only round three. But perhaps for the first time in his career Cleary has walked into a club ready to win, which comes with its own pressure. That pressure will be most keenly felt this week, from a set of fans who he united on his arrival at the club and perhaps united even more when he left. Some understood the unique lure of returning to Penrith to coach his son, others didn’t.
Asked late last year about how Tigers fans should feel about his exit, Cleary told the Herald : "The fans are the lifeblood of the game. We wouldn’t have a game without the fans – I was a fan once too and I understand the emotions that come with it.
"There will be a variety of emotions and some fans that I’ve already spoken to while disappointed I’m leaving understand and am thankful for what I’ve done. I’m sure there will be other fans that don’t quite see it that way. I totally understand that and get that. Our fans are emotional. I’d suppose I’d just like to say anything I did with the club I did it authentically, I believed everything I said and I never for one minute thought I’d be leaving but it’s just kind of how it happened. I would say I think they’ve got a great club.
“Some people won’t see it this way, but I can look myself in the mirror and know that I’ve given the Tigers full disclosure through this whole journey. I’ve tried to consider everything to make sure this was done in the right way. That’s all I can do.” On emotion, Cleary wasn’t keen to show much of it after Penrith were humbled by a resilient Storm in the central west on Saturday night.
He was asked, almost baited, for his thoughts on the week coming. He cared little for it and after being prodded one more time swiftly wrapped up the press conference and walked out.
Having carved his reputation as one of the calmest coaches in the game, Cleary’s patience has been tested within his first few months back at the foot of the mountains. He has had to navigate his way through the sex tapes scandal, born from a time when he wasn’t at the club.
It’s a deeply personal part of a week he will try his best to shrug off as not being about himself. But try telling Tigers fans it won’t be personal.