Ivan Cleary doesn't need to rush to reunite with Nathan

Time is on the Cleary family's side.

Respect and integrity are Cleary family traits. These will be among the chief reasons Ivan Cleary stays at the Wests Tigers.

Nathan Cleary made his NRL debut in June 2016 with the Panthers, eight months after the club sacked his father Ivan.

Late in 2016, Nathan agreed to extend his tenure with the Panthers until the end of 2019, by which time he will have just turned 22.

Although the NSW Origin halfback, his NRL career is still in its infancy. He is contemplating his second senior contract.

He is not in his late 20s weighing up the final years of his career.

He is four or five contracts away from that fork in the road.

So there isn't any unseemly haste by the Clearys to link up. Nathan can finish at Penrith, perhaps even extend for a year until 2020, when his father comes off his Wests Tigers deal.

Nathan will be 23 by then and still not have reached his prime.

That's why Ivan Cleary can sit back and think: "We have plenty of time to get together – it doesn't have to be right here; right now."

Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

If Nathan was 29, it would be a whole different ball game. Time would be running out and the Clearys would be feeling the squeeze to have their careers in tandem.

As it is they keep a close watch on each other. Ivan is at every one of Nathan's Panthers games unless he is interstate with the Tigers.

Theirs is an inspiring father-son bond. But it was less than 12 months ago when Ivan revealed to NRL.com that he and Nathan had finally come to the conclusion that they did want to be in the same squad together.

Again, why the rush? If that decision was only made late last year, surely making it a reality can wait another year or two?

The Clearys have time on their side as neither of them are anywhere near the rugby league convalescence home.

The other pointer to Ivan staying at the Tigers is collateral damage.

He is a man whose reputation and calmness are renowned. He has earned mutual respect - he listens to his players when they speak, and when he has something to say, they are all ears.

It is very hard to earn respect but once you have it in rugby league, it is possibly the best weapon for a coach.

Ivan Cleary declaring on Saturday he would honour his Wests Tigers contract is a decision not just about he and his son, but one that affects his NRL squad of 30 players – including many like Ben Matulino, Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds, Moses Mbye – who uprooted themselves to link with Cleary.

The Tigers now have more than 20,000 members, or almost double what they had in 2015.

The club hasn't played finals for the past six years but Cleary has them in contention – they are ninth and can cut the gap to eighth to just one win with three games left if they topple the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday.

Two prodigal sons in Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah – members of the 2005 premiership-winning team – are back and there is a buzz around the Wests Tigers once again.

Cleary won't publicly take a bow for all that but he is a big part of it, along with a hard-working board and CEO.

He knows a lot of Tigers people put their faith in him. They trust him. They respect him.

If Cleary snr had opted to leave in the lurch by requesting to break his contract two years early, it would have erased all that.

A hasty decision would have wiped out years of building respect and integrity that started back at the Warriors in 2006 – Ivan's first NRL head coach gig.

He took the Warriors to four finals series in six years, including the 2011 grand final.

He can take the Wests Tigers to the finals next year and the year after.

Then he can link with his son when the options open to them both are not restricted to just two clubs.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.