Would Cleary go back to his old job? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Would Cleary go back to his old job? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Panthers target Tigers coach

PENRITH have started secret internal discussions about luring Ivan Cleary back to the Panthers as head coach after they sacked Anthony Griffin on Monday.

The fifth-placed Panthers stunned the rugby league world by dumping Griffin just a month out from the NRL finals.

And even more shocking is revelations their preference to replace Griffin with Cleary, the man they sacked in 2015, in a move that would keep his son Nathan at the Panthers.


Inside sources have revealed Penrith's management have spoken privately about whether Ivan Cleary would consider seeking an early release from the Wests Tigers.

Should Cleary remain at Concord - he has two years remaining on his current deal - Penrith would look at former South Sydney premiership-winning coach, Michael Maguire.

Maguire has support at Penrith, as does Cameron Ciraldo, who was named caretaker coach on Monday with recently retired hooker Peter Wallace to assist him.

Ciraldo's chances of being named head coach would improve significantly should he drive Penrith deep into September.

It is said the players had run out of patience. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
It is said the players had run out of patience. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Panthers halfback Cleary comes off contract after next season and wants to be coached by his father.

Ivan stated publicly just last week he wanted to coach his son.

Luring Ivan Cleary back to Penrith would ensure Nathan signs a new five-year deal.

One obstacle though is that Penrith general manager Phil Gould sacked Ivan Cleary back in 2015. Cleary still had a season left on his deal at the time before Griffin was appointed.

While still hurt, Cleary has told friends he doesn't harbour any long-term anger towards Gould and Penrith's abundant resources would be attractive to the Tigers coach.

There is still plenty of work to be completed before Cleary would return to Penrith, given the Tigers could easily block any move for their coach.

The mouth-watering possibility of a Cleary combination would lead Penrith into a golden new era.

Gus didn’t like what he was seeing. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)
Gus didn’t like what he was seeing. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

Penrith hierarchy also believe Maguire, 44, the current New Zealand Test coach, is ready for a return to the NRL after being axed from South Sydney last season.

Well-placed sources say Gould sought to assist Griffin as far back as January but Griffin resisted. Those close to the club claim "it had to come to a head."

Insiders described the sacked coach as "old school" but a "control freak", who struggled to assign duties to other members of the coaching staff.

Griffin walked out of the club on Monday with immediate effect, with Penrith claiming to be in "no rush" to name his replacement.

Gould and Griffin have "butted heads" for most of the season, according to Panthers insiders. Officially, Griffin and Penrith came to a mutual agreement.

Penrith's board met on Monday and decided Griffin wasn't the coach they wanted to move the club forward.

Griffin, 51, still had two years remaining on his contract - an extension announced in October last year.

What’s the phrase … you can never go back? (Gregg Porteous)
What’s the phrase … you can never go back? (Gregg Porteous)

It is understood a group of Penrith players met with Panthers officials over the weekend to express frustration at Griffin's coaching methods.

Players privately claimed they weren't learning under Griffin.

Penrith released a statement where Panthers Group CEO Brian Fletcher said: "There has been much speculation and rumours about the club and head coach Anthony Griffin over the last few weeks.

"After discussions with Anthony Griffin it is time to end that speculation. By mutual agreement, the club and Anthony have agreed to part ways, effective immediately.

"Anthony departs the club after much success, having taken the Panthers to the finals in the last two years and leaves the club on track for another finals appearance in 2018."

Manly coach Trent Barrett is another to be linked to Penrith despite having another two years to run at Brookvale. Two-time premiership-winning coach Des Hasler has also been mentioned.

Griffin was not answering his mobile phone. It is unknown whether he signed a confidentiality clause.

Speculation about Griffin's tenure first surfaced in June.

At the time, Gould was forced to defend rumours that Griffin's influence was being diluted at the club.

"We have 22 full-time people working in football at the Panthers Academy. Everything is overseen by head coach Anthony Griffin,' Gould said.

"It's a huge job these days. It's not like the old days where the head coach did everything.

"The best coaches today rely heavily on their specialist staff members across all areas of coaching and development."

Retaining Nathan Cleary is vital to the Panthers. (Jenny Evans)
Retaining Nathan Cleary is vital to the Panthers. (Jenny Evans)

Griffin has made the finals in his three years at the club and has the Panthers running in equal fourth position with St George Illawarra.

Asked would Barrett be at Manly next season, Sea Eagles CEO Lyall Gorman said: "I don't know, it's a question you'd have to ask him. Certainly I will be sitting down with Trent's management to discuss his future.

"Trent has given assurances he hasn't had any discussions out there. I think the whole rugby league world would be shell-shocked the Penrith coach has been removed."