You’ve got to hand it to Phil Gould, he has done an amazing job when it comes to handing the “Cleary situation” at the Penrith Panthers.
To be able to sack Ivan Cleary and keep hold of a younger Nathan Cleary was big in itself. As Nathan showed signs that he wasn’t just going to be a capable young halfback, but one of the elite halfbacks in the game, the Panthers did well to convince him to stay with the club that had sacked his father.
When Ivan Cleary got a job coaching the Wests Tigers, the writing was on the wall. Nathan had by that stage proven to be one of the most in demand halfbacks in the game, and the ease at which he could have left the Panthers to join the Tigers made such a move hard to bet against. Nathan himself was making noise about wanting to be coached by his father, and as the Wests Tigers started to improve, Gould must have known he had a tough job on his hand.
Somehow Gould not only convinced Nathan Cleary to stick with the Panthers, he also convinced Ivan Cleary to come back to the club that had sacked him, by the bloke that sacked him! Unbelievable!
The issue the Panthers would now face is pretty easy to see…
Building the club around Nathan Cleary is a no-brainer. A young halfback, level headed, already experienced at representative level, proven to play well in the few big games he has played in, and from a good footballing family. You dream of getting a player like this at your club. The Panthers have already signed Nathan to a long term deal, one I expect will be upgraded well before it expires. Nathan Cleary will be one of the highest paid players in the game before too long.
Building a club around one player is a risk, but this is one that looks like a good risk to take.
The issue you have is that when Ivan Cleary takes over as Panthers coach, you have a whole new dynamic at play. What happens if Ivan shows he can’t take the club to the next level? What happens if Nathan doesn’t kick on as expected? What happens if the Panthers unearth the next great halfback and it becomes clear that Nathan isn’t the centerpiece any more andd the new guy is?
What happens if it becomes clear that you really want to hold on to one of the Cleary’s but not the other?
That will require Phil Gould to treat everything very delicately.
Now to be fair to the Cleary’s they have never tried to use all of this power in a gross way. Nathan has looked to achieve on his own ability while his father has been very careful to separate his sons elevation into the games elite level from his own career moves.
At no point was the ultimatum give to any club that you sign father and son, or you don’t get either.
Still, Gould goes all in when he signs both, and to be honest I think it is a good move. These are proven performers. I personally think Ivan Cleary is one of the top three coaches in the game, while Nathan is a very good halfback right now, even when you look beyond his young age. It is a good package deal, one that I do believe will take the Panthers in the right direction.