Penrith general manager Phil Gould says the club is unlikley to secure Ivan Cleary as coach in 2019. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Penrith general manager Phil Gould says the club is unlikley to secure Ivan Cleary as coach in 2019. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

Gould admits Panthers’ play for Cleary could backfire

BEFORE the rugby league world went into meltdown over Anthony Griffin's explosive revelations on NRL 360 on Wednesday night, Panthers general manager Phil Gould had his say on the developing coaching saga.

In an attempt to clear the air after days of speculation and comment following Griffin's axing as Panthers head coach, Gould took to his podcast, Six Tackles with Gus, to set the record straight over the club's attempt to poach Ivan Cleary from the Wests Tigers.

As the man who sacked Cleary and replaced him with Griffin in 2015, Gould said he had no part in the conversation to attract the Wests Tigers coach back to Penrith - that responsibility lay with chairman David O'Neill.

Amazingly, Gould said he did not expect Cleary to seek a release from the Wests Tigers from the final two years of his contract given that club's insistence they would not grant him one anyway.

It casts doubt over who will be coaching the Panthers in 2019 and what impact it will have on the club and its players.

"Ivan has not asked for a release at the Wests Tigers," Gould said.

"I could never see Wests Tigers releasing him from that deal, and to be honest I don't think Ivan would pursue if the Tigers felt that way."

He was then asked if he could see Cleary coaching at the Panthers in 2019.

"No, but the original conversation was not about next year it was about the future," Gould said, explaining the original conversation between O'Neill and Cleary was innocent, rather than a deliberate play.

Will Cleary walk away from his Tigers mission? Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP
Will Cleary walk away from his Tigers mission? Picture: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Gould said he had no part in the conversation - that it was mentioned innocently to Cleary by O'Neill in passing, and the conversation grew from there.

O'Neill then told Gould about the conversation. Gould said it would become a "media storm" once Cleary informed the Wests Tigers about the meeting, and this led to Griffin's sacking.

"I said: 'That's not fair to Anthony Griffin. He can't coach (under those circumstances). That's going to create a media storm straight away. We need to tell him exactly what is going on'."

He also rubbished any suggestion he had been involved in trying to lure Cleary back to the Panthers.

"If he was planning to come to the Panthers in years to come, he didn't want to hide that from the Wests Tigers," Gould said.

"I don't know at what point it became about 2019 and I know if it has become about 2019. I don't expect Ivan at the Panthers in 2019.

"The Wests Tigers are quite right to say no because he has a contract.

"I would normally not end the services of a coach unless I had a plan in place, and I have no plan in place to replace Anthony Griffin."

Tigers chair Marina Go appeared on League Life on Wednesday night and said it was not ethical for the Panthers to approach Cleary, and the club would fight to hold their coach to his contract.

Gould also denied the move to poach Cleary had anything to do with retaining star halfback Nathan Cleary, son of the coach, who would come off contract at the end of 2019 and had a desire to play for his dad.

"It's got nothing to do with it. The whole Nathan thing is unfortunate," Gould said.

"Nathan has been in our program since he was 14. When Ivan first came to the club, Nathan was sitting up the back of our halfback academy as a 14-year-old kid.

"He loves the club."

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