Ex-Panthers trio back Cleary
Wests Tigers trio Tim Grant, Kevin Naiqama and Elijah Taylor have all backed the club's decision to appoint Ivan Cleary as the new head coach after previously playing under him at the Panthers.
With Cleary announced as Jason Taylor's replacement at Concord for the next three and a half seasons, the arrival of the joint venture's fifth leader in five years leaves some players in the wilderness about their own futures including the much talked about "big four" of James Tedesco, Mitch Moses, Luke Brooks and Aaron Woods.
However there are a number of other players at the club also fighting for new contracts beyond this season including Grant and Naiqama who are off-contract and were let go by Cleary once before at the foot of the mountains.
Another former Panther, Jamal Idris, also played under the 48-year-old and faces a future of uncertainty beyond this year after a return to the code this season.
Grant was coached by Cleary for 48 games before being moved on to Redfern despite having two years left to run on his Panthers contract and while the club's decision to release Grant hurt at the time, the 29-year-old is pleased to see his former mentor appointed the role.
"Like anything in footy there's always circumstances around salary cap and I enjoyed my time under Ivan and I learnt a lot," Grant said of his departure at the Panthers.
"It wasn't ideal for me leaving Penrith but in saying that it was the right call for that club, they've grown to bigger and better things and I've grown and matured to understand that.
"I can see him (Cleary) here and definitely see the fit with the young guys after seeing how he developed a guy like Matt Moylan at the Panthers, so he is impressive.
"Also I've seen him work with Nathan [Cleary] as a young kid so he's got the knack."
It was a short one-year stay at the foot of the mountains for Naiqama with the Fijian international stuck behind a star-studded backline that still remains under current Panthers coach Anthony Griffin.
Naiqama was forced to find a new home despite scoring seven tries in eight appearances under Cleary before the Wests Tigers came calling and insists there was no issue with his former mentor despite not being retained at the time.
"[Cleary's] a good coach with a brain for the game and I think at the time [in 2014] we had the luxury of a real good squad depth and coming off the success of the NYC squad," Naiqama told NRL.com.
"The current [NRL] squad they've got is full of those NYC kids now so it went a long way for us progressing as a club back then and he built that.
"I've got nothing bad to say about him… from the dealings I had under him in 2014, he was real good."
For Taylor, it will be the third time he has linked up with Cleary, having already played under the coach at Penrith and the Warriors where they reached the grand final in 2011.
"He handed me my debut opportunity back at the Warriors in 2011 and I was training in the full-time squad back when I was 18," Taylor said of Cleary.
"I followed him to Penrith and he made me captain for a few games. You just want to play for him and he's a family man that put trusts in the players to play what they see.
"A lot of the Penrith boys still keep in touch with him and he was more than a coach so we always hoped to see him get another coaching job.
"He's the type of coach that would fit in anywhere. When he coaching at the Warriors all three grades were in the grand final so it says a lot about his recruitment and the way he manages players.
"I think that's one of his strongest assets."
After a dismal showing against the Dragons on Sunday, the first task on field for the Wests Tigers under their new coach is one of the toughest road trips in the competition in Townsville against the Cowboys this Saturday night.