One win to great­ness

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

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.

Ivan Cleary:

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