The Chronicle

Cleary is living the life of Brian


IVAN Cleary is in danger of becoming the new Brian Smith of NRL coaching.

It’s not a huge rap but the Panthers coach is now second to Smith on an all-time list of coaches for most premiershi­p games without winning a grand final.

Smith coached 601 games at Illawarra, St George, Parramatta, Newcastle and the Roosters over 25 seasons without winning a premiershi­p. His trophy cabinet consisted of one wooden spoon.

Panthers coach Cleary is on 367 games over 15 seasons without a premiershi­p ring.

No one in NRL history has won his first grand final after coaching 250 or more games.

Up until Saturday night in Townsville, most thought this might be Cleary’s year.

That he finally had the football team and the talent to go all away and beat main danger the Melbourne Storm.

But then he ran into old super coach Wayne Bennett, who has won seven titles and is so hard to beat around this time of the year.

Penrith has dominated for two years with the most exciting roster in the competitio­n.

With Melbourne, the Panthers had won 41 games in the past two seasons, far superior to the rest of the clubs.

Yet Townsville was a nocontest in the battle of the coaching boxes. Cleary was outplayed in the media buildup and outcoached.

His body language said it all at his post-match press conference in his eyes and his voice.

Bennett had rattled him to such an extent that one observer on social media said: “Wayne’s living rent free in Ivan’s head.”

No one uses the media better than Bennett.

When it suits, he will leak like a sieve to help his agenda.

No one gets anywhere near the old boy as a media performer. On this occasion, Cleary started a war of words he couldn’t win.

His complaint that the referees needed to protect son Nathan from South Sydney was all the ammunition Bennett required to launch one of the great pre-game blow-ups.

The evidence of who won the duel was there on the scoreboard on Saturday night: Rabbitohs 16, Panthers 10.

We can only guess this was one of the reasons why the great Gus Gould didn’t want him back at the Penrith Panthers when he sacked Anthony Griffin three years ago.

Some coaches can build clubs that are capable of winning grand finals but not deliver premiershi­ps.

It’s often said about Brad Arthur at Parramatta that he can get his team into a strong position for the business end of the season but not take the extra step to complete the job.

I asked Penrith legend and board member Greg Alexander if Cleary was rattled.

“No, no absolutely not,” he said. “This is a bit of game play between two coaches. We’re confident he will deliver a title, whether it’s this year or next.”

 ??  ?? Ivan Cleary.
Ivan Cleary.

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