Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary has ended speculation about a move to Penrith by confirming he would see out the remainder of his contract at the NRL club.
In a prepared two-minute statement, Cleary said he was not aware that Penrith would discuss their coaching future at a recent meeting with Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill.
He said no offer had been made to come back to his former club, and that he immediately informed Tigers bosses about the Panthers’ approach.
“I advised the Panthers of my ongoing contract status with the Wests Tigers,” Cleary said ahead of his team’s crucial NRL clash with Canberra on Saturday.
“I subsequently advised the chair and CEO of the Wests Tigers of the discussions I’d had with the Panthers.”
Cleary, who refused to take further questions on the matter, said he was surprised by Penrith’s decision to fire Anthony Griffin earlier this week.
Then he allayed any concerns about serving the final two years of his current deal.
“I am enjoying my contribution at this club. The club’s growing nicely. Everyone associated with this club should be proud of the direction it’s heading in,” he said.
“I respect all the people and supporters involved with this club and I intend to honour this contract.”
Cleary’s comments means the Panthers will be forced to look elsewhere to fill their coaching vacancy next season.
Penrith chief executive Brian Fletcher this week said the club would be willing to wait two years before asking Cleary to return and unite with son Nathan.
The NSW playmaker has one more year to serve on his deal at the Panthers but is able to field offers at the end of this season, including a possible move to the Tigers.
Cleary reiterated his desire to work with Nathan at some stage during their careers.
“It is common knowledge that my son Nathan and I have acknowledged our desire to work together at some time. That remains the case,” he said.
“Today I’m absolutely focused on our match with the Canberra Raiders and I’m happy to take questions around that game.”
A number of Wests Tigers players publicly stated their desire for Cleary to stay on board with the club throughout the week, considering the stellar job he’s done rebuilding.
However Benji Marshall said he could also understand Ivan’s desire to coach his son Nathan at the Panthers.
“I feel like I would love to coach my son. Hopefully he just plays golf and then I can be his caddie and we can just cruise off and that’s enough,” Marshall said.
“I can understand wanting to coach your son, 100 per cent.”
Co-captain Chris Lawrence, who is currently the longest serving player on the roster, said teammates who had been lured to the Tigers by Ivan Cleary have built strong ties to the club.
“One of the first reasons you come to the club is for the coach,” Lawrence said.
“But once you get to a club – and I’m not speaking on behalf of all the boys – (it’s about) the culture within the club and playing group around it.
“I know a lot of the boys who’ve come this year have built a close bond with a lot of the players. Whilst they might be disappointed if (Ivan left), I don’t think that would change.”