Eye-watering flaw in $10m footy gamble
IT THREATENED to get messy but Penrith finally got its man - or two of them, in fact - to complete a stunning coup it hopes will turn it into a genuine premiership force in 2019.
But it didn't come cheap.
It was officially announced on Sunday Ivan Cleary will leave the Wests Tigers and he is certain to take charge of the Panthers in 2019 despite having two years left to run on his contract with the joint-venture club.
The two clubs came to an agreement that will see Cleary return to coach his former side and allow premiership-winning mentor Michael Maguire to join the Tigers.
Despite saying this year he was committed to seeing out his contract with Wests, who he has coached since taking over from Jason Taylor in early 2017, Cleary reportedly texted Tigers players on Saturday informing them he would no longer be their boss.
Ever since Penrith reached out to Cleary after sensationally sacking Anthony Griffin a month out from the finals, speculation has raged it was only a matter of time before he headed to Sydney's west to link up with son and Panthers halfback Nathan.
Reports emerged saying Penrith had offered Cleary an in-principle three-year deal starting from 2021 and while the Tigers were originally determined to play hardball and keep the coach for the entirety of his contract, their stance changed as the coaching market became more open than ever.
Knowing Penrith was already making moves to snatch Cleary up, the Tigers agreed to release him when they were able to secure the services of Maguire, who led Souths to grand final glory in 2014.
Gaining Cleary's services marks the final piece in the jigsaw for Penrith football boss Phil Gould as he strives to help the club win its first premiership since 2003. He - with the backing of the board - sacked Griffin because he didn't believe the team could win a competition with him in charge.
Could was widely criticised for his handling of the situation, but he stood by his decision and it was clear the club was already thinking ahead to how it could lure Cleary back.
Gould sacked Cleary after the 2015 season but with Griffin gone the Panthers needed a coach - and who better than one who was guaranteed to ensure boom No. 7 Nathan stayed put?
Father and son have said publicly they would like to work together, so Gould and Co. set about making that happen.
Nathan was off contract at the end of 2019 but signed a five-year extension in September that will keep him at the club until the end of 2024. There was speculation if Ivan stayed at the Tigers he would be dangled as a carrot to bring his son to Concord but the 21-year-old's long-term commitment extinguished those hopes and fuelled speculation Ivan would soon be back at the foot of the mountains.
Although he denied his contract extension had anything to do with rumours his dad may have been returning, Nathan said Griffin's departure had given him greater clarity, admitting he was "a little bit worried" about the direction the club was heading in under the former coach.
"Things weren't going to plan this year and there was often a lot of confusion. I'm not trying to say anything bad about Hook here, but once it all got cleared up everyone was on the same page and everyone was a lot happier," Cleary said.
"Those last six weeks, even though we weren't playing great footy, training was going really well. Everyone was in the same direction and wanted to end up at the same destination."
Penrith Caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo will now step back into his assistant role as Ivan is expected to take the reins on an expected five-year deal that will tie him to the club until the end of 2023.
The Australian's rugby league reporter Brent Read reported the cost of Penrith signing both Cleary men was approximately $10m. And if that doesn't make your eyes water, an expensive problem with the complicated masterplan will.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday Penrith will have to fork out much of Maguire's salary in his first season with the Tigers as part of a compensation package, estimated at around $400,000.
The Telegraph also reports the combined costs of having to pay three coaches in 2019 - Maguire, Griffin and Cleary - add up to approximately $2 million. In effect, that's the equivalent of paying $2 million for one coach in a single season. That may be standard fare - or even unders - in the world of professional football but in rugby league it's unheard of.
While the NRL world erupted when Gould sacked Griffin during a successful season, it was clear the NRL guru had the bigger picture in mind. Not confident in Griffin's abilities, the club has banked on Nathan - who was part of NSW's victorious Origin campaign this year - to be a future superstar it can build a team around.
And now the Panthers have the coach to get the best out of him. They hope.
Only time will tell if the expensive investment was worth it.