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The very thing Ivan Cleary has hung his hat on throughout a decorated career as a player and coach contributed largely to the level of vitriol aimed towards him.

For a man who has a reputation for being open and direct to the point, and expected the same from his players, it was the surprise in his behaviour of holding back information that evoked as much outrage as his intent to leave the Wests Tigers.

There’s no doubt he has regrets. He said as much on Thursday when he fronted a large media gathering at the Panthers Academy before the first game against his old club on Friday night.

"I’d like to change the way it happened," a somewhat contrite Cleary said.

"But under the circumstances I was open and honest about it. I did the best I could."

Cleary let Wests Tigers officials know of his desire to leave late last year, but he knew the club wanted to save face. He knew Tigers officials wanted him to commit to the club – at least publicly - until they had a plan in place.

Ivan Cleary speaks ahead of Wests Tigers clash

So he did what he believed was right - maintaining a narrative with his players and the club’s supporters to the point his credibility took a dent. 

Cleary has always been uncomfortable in the spotlight, even more so given the scrutiny and attention around his every word and movement last year.

"I love rugby league. I love everything about it," he said.

Cleary won't apologise to Wests Tigers fans

"It’s given me everything I have. But I don’t like the extra attention."

The saga dented his image. But he has always maintained he has been comfortable with his actions, to the point where on Thursday he declared he doesn’t believe an apology is owed to the fans that once adored him.

"I was open and honest with everyone that needed to know," he said.

"Circumstances at the time didn’t allow me to speak publicly about it, but that was more for the protection of everyone involved. I don’t really owe anyone an apology, I don’t think. But if they’re unhappy, I respect that as well.

"The fact we’ve been talking about it for six months and it was dragged through the press for so long, that would be the first thing I would change. Sometimes you just have to go with the circumstances as they were. It was just one of those situations."

Don’t expect to see Cleary in the opposition sheds after the game on Friday night, but he insists his relationship with people at the club isn’t as fractured as they once may have been.

"I’ve never been one for doing that too much," he said about going into the opposing team's sheds.

Panthers v Wests Tigers - Round 4

"If you lose you don’t really feel like it too much, and if you win you don’t want to gloat. I don’t know. But I don’t have a problem with anyone at the Tigers and I don’t think they have with me either.

"I think I’ve got a good relationship with those boys. Rugby league people and the game in general moves on pretty quickly. All my interactions with them since has been positive."

There were several elephants in the room on Thursday when Cleary addressed the media, none more so than the role of Phil Gould at the Panthers.

As reported by on Sunday, Gould’s preference was for Wayne Bennett to take over from Anthony Griffin, only for the club to knock back a handshake agreement between the pair to put their faith in Cleary.

"Wayne Bennett is like the godfather of coaching," Cleary said.

"He’s probably got the greatest record of any coach. The fact that I’m mentioned in the same sentence, I’m quite happy."

There has been plenty of conjecture over Gould’s role at the club, with some reports suggesting he has been sidelined.

The Panthers restructured their football department to accommodate Cleary’s arrival, however the club insists Gould’s restricted involvement with the NRL team is a reflection of how different things were under Griffin.

The club was so concerned about the team under Griffin’s watch, Gould felt the need to try and coach the side.

While Gould and Cleary will never be best friends after the latter was sacked by the former a few years ago, they have put their troubles aside to work professionally.

"He’s a part of the club and has been part of the club for a long time," Cleary said.

"He had a big input into actually rebuilding this place. It’s a real team here. It’s not overly different [to when I was last here].

"I’m not sure exactly what his day to day role is, but what he does within the team he’s mostly a resource for me and the team, when you need it."

Kikau goes back to where it all began in Fiji

As for pressure around son, Nathan?

"I’m still Dad," he said.

"I still probably offer the same advice I did when I wasn’t coaching him."

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