Why Cleary is big loser out of Gould exit
IVAN Cleary finally got his man.
A hefty 1283 days after Penrith executive general manager Phil Gould sacked Cleary back in 2015 the resurrected Panthers coach has exacted some form of revenge, with Gould on Tuesday requesting a redundancy from the club's board.
A redundancy Cleary essentially orchestrated with the conditions he placed on his return to the foot of the mountains. Conditions that put the usually all-powerful Gould firmly in the back seat before forcing him out the door.
But now the pressure is firmly on Cleary to deliver what Gould couldn't in his eight years building the Panthers from the ground up: a premiership.
NRL coaches routinely come under fire for the poor form of their clubs. That's part of the job when you're the man who creates the attacking and defensive structures, when you're the man who has a hand in recruitment and retention.
But Penrith was always different. The coach might cop some of the flak but the buck ultimately stopped with Gould. Such was the involvement of the now ex-Panthers supremo that fans and commentators alike knew if Penrith wasn't performing it was probably more to do with Gould's influence than the coach's.
But Gould is gone now and with it Cleary's buffer.
Any criticism levelled at the club's NRL performance will now fall squarely on him and, as fate would have it, the Panthers are ripe for criticism after a poor start to season 2019.
Cleary's men have slumped to four losses from six starts. The two wins they did manage over the Wests Tigers and Newcastle Knights were less than emphatic with margins of just one and two points respectively.
This from a team that has allegedly been primed for premiership glory for the past couple of seasons.
Their attack this year has been awful. They are averaging only 13.8 points a game compared to 23.3 under Anthony Griffin before his own sacking in 2018.
Linebreaks, tackle busts and offloads are way down for a team that just two years ago was renowned for the flair and exciting ad hoc play the gets fans into stadiums.
The talent to deliver for Penrith is there thanks to the junior pathways systems and centre of excellence Gould himself created.
At the moment, though, Cleary isn't getting the results despite all the resources at his disposal.
Cleary has a lot of work to do to turn the Panthers around in 2019 and with each loss the pressure will continue to build. The questions will keep being asked.
The difference now is Gould won't be there to take the brunt of any criticism levelled at the club. That's Cleary's job now.
Revenge, they say, is sweet. But Cleary may yet be left with a sour taste in his mouth unless the Panthers start firing.