One win to greatness
Ivan Cleary’s departure from the Warriors is turning into one of the great farewells.
Months ago, the taciturn coach signalled his intention to leave the club and coach Penrith in the National Rugby League next season.
Cleary’s commitment with the Warriors would have finished three weeks ago if his team had not qualified for the play-offs. They did that comfortably.
It looked as if the Cleary era might be over when the Warriors got thumped 40-10 by the Broncos in Brisbane in their first play-off match.
Other results fell the Warriors’ way and they lived to battle into the next play-off round, against Benji Marshall’s Wests Tigers.
Despite being heavy underdogs and trailing 18-6 at half-time, the Warriors fought back to win that one 22-20. Replacement Warriors centre Krisnan Inu sealed the match in the 78th minute when he latched on to a bomb from halfback Shaun Johnson to score the decisive try.
Now the Warriors – and Cleary – head into another potentially season-ending match, against the high-flying Melbourne Storm on Saturday.
The Storm should win, but the Warriors have an encouraging record against them. This includes beating them in a famous play-off match in 2008 and again this season.
Apparently a bollocking Cleary gave his troops at halftime against the Tigers turned last weekend’s match. Such a burst from Cleary would have had maximum effect because he is as understated as they come.
In post-match interviews he has turned remaining impassive and emotionless into art form. He makes fellow coach Wayne Bennett seem positively effusive.
I must say, however, that on the odd occasion I’ve interviewed Cleary he has always been articulate and helpful.
Whether the Warriors bow out against the Storm or go all the way to the Grand Final, as they did in 2002, Cleary can walk away with head high.
The Warriors have had six coaches since 1995. John Monie ( 1995-97), Frank Endacott ( 1997-98), Mark Graham ( 1999-2000), Daniel Anderson ( 2001-04), Tony Kemp (2004-05) and Cleary ( since 2006) have all struggled to come to terms with the Warriors’ inconsistency.
Dazzling, expansive, matchless football is interspersed with lacklustre uncommitted performances. It has always been thus. But no coach has got more out of the Warriors than Cleary, who has a 49 per cent win rate in his 126 matches in charge.
He has coached the Warriors longer than even Anderson (who was at the helm for 92 games) and taken them into the play-offs in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
It should also be noted that Cleary, having played at Manly, North Sydney and the Roosters, provided the Warriors with yeoman service as a fullback and goal-kicker at the end of his playing career. His last game was the 2002 Grand Final lost to the Roosters.
I’ve been impressed with him as a coach. He has stuck loyally by his players – his backing of Manu Vatuvei despite Vatuvei’s horror game against the Broncos this month was an example – and the players have responded.
Cleary could leave the Warriors today with a proud record. If he can guide his team to victory over the Storm, he would prolong his farewell and enshrine himself in Warriors legend.
Warriors’ man of the hour.
Finding the line: Aotea College’s Caighan Moko had a nose for the tryline, with a beautiful run in the second half leading to a four-pointer, closing the gap on the scoreboard with Upper Hutt College.