WARRIORS fans overwhelmingly want former Kiwis coach Brian "Bluey" McClennan to succeed Ivan Cleary next season.
About 88 per cent of more than 2000 respondents to a Herald online poll voted for McClennan when asked to choose between the multiple-title winning coach and current assistant coach Tony Iro, the most likely candidate should the club opt to promote internally.
Chief executive Wayne Scurrah, who confirmed he had called McClennan yesterday to keep him appraised of developments as Cleary formally announced his departure, said supporters' views would be taken into account.
"Our members especially are part of the club, part of the fabric of who we are," Scurrah said.
"We have got a very open mind on the future. We simply want the best coach we can to take the club to the next stage."
McClennan, whose achievements include guiding Leeds to consecutive Super League titles, leading the Kiwis to the 2005 Tri Nations title and winning multiple domestic titles with Mt Albert and Hibiscus Coast, confirmed his interest in the role.
"I'm interested in being interviewed but I am very mindful of the fact the Warriors are two-thirds of the way through a season and have some very important games coming up," McClennan said.
McClennan has kept a low profile since returning to Auckland from Yorkshire late last year but the Herald understands that coaching the Warriors would be his dream job.
Although he does not know any of the club's board members, he has strong ties with its staff, somewhat ironically through his friendships with John Ackland and Iro, his two main contenders for the job.
Ackland is a lifelong friend of the McClennan family and McClennan's relationship with Iro dates back to the former Kiwis and Wigan star's early playing days with Mt Albert.
Cleary, who will join Penrith next season on a three-year deal, would prefer the club to promote his successor from within.
"It's a bit hard for me to endorse anyone," he said when asked if he would back Iro. "I hope that it is someone internally. That is my personal wish but it is not up to me.
"There are some pretty good candidates in our club. I have been fortunate to work with some great people in Tony Iro and John Ackland. I have learned a lot from those guys."
Scurrah confirmed both Ackland and Iro would be considered for the post.
"Certainly I see Tony and John in the mix at the club in whatever role for a long time," he said. "They are both very successful."
Cleary denied staff, including high performance manager Craig Walker, had agreed to follow him to Penrith.
"That's actually not true," Cleary said. "All I know is that I am going to be the coach."
Cleary's departure after six seasons came after the Warriors declined to match Penrith's offer of a three-year deal.
"We weren't prepared to make an offer of a similar term but we were definitely interested in a future with Ivan," Scurrah said.
"But the timing wasn't correct from our point of view and we have got to do the right thing by the club."
Asked whether he would have stayed had the Warriors offered an identical deal to Penrith's, Cleary said: "That's a question I can't answer".
Scurrah said the club would wait two weeks before pressing ahead with the search for a new coach.
"We are just going to let the dust settle and re-galvanise the team. At the right time we will talk to [the candidates] again."
* Penrith general manager of football Phil Gould said last night that he would leave it to Cleary to determine whether stand-in coach Steve Georgallis has a future with the club.
Gould said Cleary was always his preference but claimed that only in the last few days had discussions focused on next year rather than 2013 when Cleary would have been out of contract with the Warriors.
"Right from the start of this process, he was my first choice," Gould said.
"[He's] what we're looking for: a development coach, one of strong character, great discipline, great leadership and he's provided that for the Warriors.
"I don't really need to look at results to see the worth of a coach - Ivan's an outstanding young coach."
As to whether Georgallis would be with the Panthers beyond his 11-game tenure as interim coach, Gould said: "That will be a decision for the new head coach coming in".
HOW IT PLAYED OUT
June 10: Cleary first linked to Panthers.
Panthers general manager of football Phil Gould says: "We have a coach in place for 2011 in Matt Elliott so I have plenty of time to find our club the best coaching structure for the future. I won't be rushing into that process."
June 18: Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah says Cleary is staying with the club.
"All I can tell you is that Ivan is on contract with us until 31 October next year. We've confirmed our commitment to Ivan about him staying until at least that period and Ivan has done nothing other than tell us he wants to be here. He has not requested a release in any way."
June 20: Elliott sacked as Penrith coach.
"The decision was made by the board some time ago that Matt Elliott's coaching contract wouldn't be renewed," said Gould.
June 29: Scurrah confirms Cleary's departure.
"While we were discussing the potential to extend Ivan's contract over the last week, it became apparent to both parties that Ivan had a chance to secure his long-term coaching career with Penrith immediately and that we were not in a position at the moment to guarantee a similar term."
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