Cleary named NRL Coach of the Year
It's the fast-tracked five-year plan that almost came to fruition a couple of years early with the Panthers' outstanding season earning coach Ivan Cleary the award as the Dally M Coach of the Year.
Predicted as improvers at the start of 2014 but far from premiership contenders, the Panthers continued to confound the critics and defy the casualty ward to finish in the top four at the end of the regular season and come within a week of the grand final.
Up against his former club, Cleary then engineered a shock upset of the Sydney Roosters in Week One of the Telstra Premiership Finals Series but couldn't find a way to crack the defensive grit of the Bulldogs in last Saturday's preliminary final.
In his third year at the foot of the mountains, Cleary instilled a philosophy across the entire playing roster that not only yielded a Preliminary Final for the first-graders but saw the Panthers – under the stewardship of Garth Brennan – claim the VB NSW Cup crown.
He brought the best out in Jamie Soward when many thought the former Dragon was past his prime, blooded exciting young talents in Isaah Yeo, Bryce Cartwright and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and has fullback Matt Moylan poised for higher representative honours.
When he was handed the position of General Manager back in 2011 Phil Gould knew exactly the coach he wanted to help rebuild the Panthers and three years in his judgement has once again proven to be spot on.