Career coaches don’t come along very often and for that reason the Warriors need to speak to axed Panthers mentor Ivan Cleary.
The former Warriors coach was sacked by the Panthers earlier in the week – citing that Cleary was stale and needed a year off. They say change is as good as a holiday and if Cleary were to move to Auckland for a second stint at the helm of the Warriors then I imagine he will be refreshed.
While the Warriors have publicly said the timing is not right for a Cleary-redux I disagree. Managing director Jim Doyle has correctly stood behind incumbent Andrew McFadden but Cleary’s availability changes things. Only multiple premiership winners Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy and Des Hasler have been coaching first grade for as long as Cleary. The Warriors found their most consistent seasons under his guidance and the guy clearly understands what it takes to get the best out of Kiwi players.
Panthers supremo Phil Gould hired Cleary away from the Warriors back in 2011. Cleary helped clean out some deadwood and turn the club into a premiership force, improving each year and culminating in a grand final qualifier in 2014, despite a horror run of injuries. That injury curse struck worse still this year and the Panthers season never got going. Gould astonishingly pulled the trigger on Cleary’s time at the club, replacing him with former Broncos boss Anthony Griffin.
While it is hard to see a current opening in the first grade ranks, Cleary is too good a coach to simply wait around for an opportunity. Someone will manufacture things to ensure he gets a run to start the 2016 season or to take over midway through the year.
The Warriors are coming off a disappointing season themselves where injury killed off their chances as well. Despite calls to move him on, the Warriors have stuck with McFadden for a 2016 season in which the club welcomes star recruits Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke to the roster. I have backed the club’s stance on not looking to replace McFadden as I believe he deserves a crack with a better roster.
Displaying loyalty is an admirable trait but it doesn’t lead to premierships however. The Warriors owe it to themselves and their long-suffering fans to make the best moves available to them. A week ago there wasn’t a coach out there that looked a better fit than McFadden. A week is a long time in football however.
If Cleary is keen for a second stint in Auckland – they need to give him the chance.