Broncos coach Kevin Walters has admitted on the eve of Friday night’s clash with Penrith that he has dreamed of emulating with son Billy what Ivan and Nathan Cleary achieved at the Panthers last season – but it is not something they openly discuss.
Kevin and Billy Walters will come to head with Ivan and Nathan for the first time at BlueBet Stadium and the historic occasion has coincided with the mid-week announcement that Penrith have re-signed their premiership winning father-son combination until 2027.
The match will be just the second time in premiership history that a father and son have been on opposing sides as coach and player, but it is just six months since Parramatta’s Brad and Jacob Arthur opposed the Clearys in the last round of the 2021 season.
Like Cleary, Walters always wanted to coach his son but the circumstances under which they re-united are different.
Nathan was established as the Penrith halfback when Ivan quit Wests Tigers for the opportunity to coach him at the Panthers, whereas Billy had played just 12 NRL matches before joining the Broncos this season.
After debuting with the Storm in 2019, he moved to Wests Tigers the following season but when his father gave up the Queensland coaching job to take charge of the club he played 242 matches for it seemed inevitable that Billy would follow.
In the pre-season trials and opening five rounds of the Telstra Premiership, Billy has emerged as the playmaker who best compliments star recruit Adam Reynolds in the halves, but he and Kevin are also prepared for the tough conversation if his form no longer warrants selection.
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“It looks like he has been pretty upfront about that,” Ivan Cleary said. “The advantage that I have is that I have never had to worry about whether Nathan gets picked in the team, or not yet anyway.
“When we decided to do this together that was always going to be part of it. I think it would be a little bit more difficult if there were decisions all the time about whether he is in or he is out because the outside noise … there would definitely be some around.
“From the outside looking in Kevvie looks like he handling it well, and young Billy is playing well so it looks like that is working well together.”
Walters said he appreciated the compliment from his coaching counterpart, but his approach is to treat Billy as any other player at the Broncos, while away from training and games the 28-year-old is his son.
“They are certainly nice words from Ivan, and for Billy, as well,” Walters said. “Bill is an important part for us and if Billy can play the game we know he is capable of we will be in pretty safe hands.
“I have known Billy for 28 years, so I reckon we know our dynamic is okay. It is more about getting settled within our halves, our hookers and our fullback and trying to build what Penrith have done the past two or three years.”
Asked if he dreamed of holding the Provan-Summons Trophy up with Billy on grand final day as Ivan and Nathan did last season, Walters said: “I dream every night about it".
“It is great for them and they are not the first to do it,” Walters said. “Johnny Lang and Martin Lang did it a few years back as well at Penrith [in 2003]. I think it is every coach’s dream and every player’s dream to be there on grand final day holding the trophy up.
“I see they have been signed on for a few more years and that’s well done to them. They have been a good side for a few years and Ivan has been a good coach for a long time now.”
Former Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos great Steve Renouf played most of his career with Walters as his five-eighth and he can see similarities in Kevin and Billy's playing styles.
"I have known Billy since he was a baby and he played a lot of rep footy with my son, Billy, as well during the juniors so I have also seen his footy talents since he was about 12," Renouf said.
“One thing he has had to cope with is that pressure of being a Walters and I think he has done a pretty good job of that. He has just got to play his game because he is a natural footy player, like his dad. He has just got to not think about his dad.
“If you know Billy, he is a very confident kid. He carries it well and I don’t think he has let that bother him. He can definitely handle it.
Renouf takes advantage of a Walters break
“Obviously I watch him pretty closely and he likes running the ball but he also gives good ball to his outside backs, and Kotoni Staggs showed last week how effective our centres and outside backs can be.
"Kevvie was obviously one of my favourite team-mates, he looked after me and we had a combination. A good five-eighth will do that and Billy has natural flair, he also knows the game."