World’s best coach reveals he nearly quit before he had the chance to build dynasty

Ivan Cleary is now the best coach on the planet in the eyes of many.

He has taken a Penrith Panthers side with huge untapped potential and turned them into a powerhouse like nothing we have seen in the NRL for the last few years.

They have played in three consecutive Grand Finals and are unbelievably consistent in the league.

But he very nearly didn’t make it past his first year in the job as he revealed on the Get the Edge podcast.

“The messiness of the Tigers exit plus the father and son thing was a big story and if we failed that was going to be an even bigger story,” Cleary said.

“That was exactly what was happening. First 10 games we’d won two, Nathan wasn’t playing well. We played a game [in the] middle of the year against the Warriors. I remember the game finished and thinking, ‘I’m responsible for that. That was awful’.

“I was at the lowest of lows. I honestly felt really guilty because it was affecting Nathan’s form. I was not at my best that year in so many ways. I had a five-year contract.

“I was halfway through and was definitely thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m the right man for this job’. Team is playing badly, star halfback is suffering because of our relationship. I was burdening him because of the pressure of this father-son thing. We somehow made it through.”

Cleary also revealed that his return to Penrith came because of two reasons: he didn’t want to coach against his son, and that he had ‘unfinished business’ at Penrith.

“It sounds a little dramatic, but it’s true, I coached the Panthers for four years, lost my job, was out of coaching for a year,” Cleary said.

“That was a good year for me, I really reflected a lot… got a job at the Wests Tigers, really grateful for that opportunity.

“But one thing always gnawed at me was I had to coach against my son, two games I did it, I hated it, my wife hated it, I really didn’t like it.

“Long story short, Panthers offered to get me back, it was like I would love that. Nothing against the Tigers but I had unfinished business here I felt… I started from a rebuild… to be able to coach Nathan was the icing on top.”

We will see Cleary come up against Super League’s best in the World Club Challenge as they take on St Helens in February.

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