Ivan Cleary admits Trent Barrett's exit from Penrith five years ago caused a distraction but he's adamant there won't be more issues if his assistant signs with Canterbury.
Working under coach Cleary at the Panthers in 2015, Barrett was asked to stay away from training towards the back-end of the year as he finalised a deal to replace Manly's Geoff Toovey as head coach.
Now Barrett, eager to revive his head coaching career, is the clear front-runner to lead the Bulldogs in 2021 after they parted ways with Dean Pay.
Barrett returned to Penrith over the pre-season after being put on gardening leave by the Sea Eagles at the end of 2018.
Cleary described his second partnership with Barrett as "seamless" and wants him to see out the year even if he's headed for Belmore.
"I've been speaking regularly with Trent. I'm right across everything that's going on," Cleary said before Sunday's clash with the Cowboys.
"I'm positive it's not going to be [a distraction]. We've actually been through this five years ago. Times have changed a bit and this situation's different.
"As I said, Trent's been completely transparent with me and we support him in every way as well. It'll be business as usual."
Panthers v Cowboys - Round 10
He added: "I think everybody's well aware that Baz wants to get back in the head coaching ranks. I think everyone's well aware that he's spoken to the Bulldogs. It's completely transparent, everyone knows the story.
"As far as Baz goes, he turns up each day here and does his job and we're right behind him. As long as that's the case, we can obviously get on with life."
But there would be an expectation that Barrett wouldn't try to convince Penrith players to go with him to Canterbury.
"We've got a very good relationship that's built on, as much as anything else, trust," Cleary said.
Asked whether the speculation around Barrett, who has been credited with transforming Penrith's attack, could derail the side's promising campaign, Cleary said it was "just part of the journey".
"These things pop up and present themselves ... It's just a matter of how you deal with it," he said.
Cleary's son Nathan has enjoyed having Barrett back in black, the NSW Origin halfback taking his game to new heights in 2020.
"Trent started working with Nat when he was like 15 or something. Relationships are important in anything but particularly in our world," Ivan Cleary said.
"That trust factor is really important. Baz obviously had a lot to do with Nat's development and improvement, but so has all the other staff."
Third-placed Penrith are aiming for five straight wins when they return to Panthers Stadium for the first time since round one.
North Queensland are battling injury concerns amid a form slump but Cleary is wary of the Paul Green-coached team.
Match: Panthers v Cowboys
Round 10 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
"They've had some games they'd probably rather forget, but they've also had some really good games," Cleary said.
"They had a really good win against Knights up there a couple of weeks ago. I thought they looked really good early on against the Roosters last week before the Roosters got on top in the second half.
"The Cowboys have had a history of success and we're well aware of what they're capable of doing … They've had 10 days to get ready for this game, so we're expecting a very tough game."