Warriors star Lewis Brown has fired a parting shot at the club, saying its management should have done more to keep Ivan Cleary as coach.
The Warriors' current woes can be traced back to the middle of last year, when a premature lack of faith allowed Cleary to walk out the door.
Now, nearly one year after Cleary led the club to its healthiest state, with all three teams reaching their respective grand finals, the Warriors are without a head coach after Brian McClennan was sacked with two games remaining.
That they narrowly avoided this year's wooden spoon accentuates the rapid demise. There is a sense that short-sighted club officials underestimated Cleary's influence; the decision to let the former fullback go to the Panthers was a mistake and that this year's capitulation was avoidable.
The Sunday Star-Times understands Cleary's stern approach earned rare respect from his players. Given that relationship, there is a feeling the Warriors should have matched the three-year deal offered by the Panthers. Instead, six years investment was discarded and Cleary was granted an early release.
“I would have loved for the club to hold on to Ivan,” said Brown, who will link with Cleary next year. “To be honest if he was still here I would have stayed.
“I've got massive respect for Ivan. I believe I played my best footy under him. He gets the best out of me.
“A lot people say he's very short with his words but I don't like to get on the awkward side of him,” Brown told the Sunday Star-Times.
For many players, Cleary's decision to leave came as a shock.
When the most successful Warriors coach announced midway through last year that he would be joining the Panthers, his team were 12th. His troops then rallied to reach the grand final.
“Ivan is a great coach. [Panthers boss] Phil Gould obviously knew that to go that hard for him,” departing Warriors standoff James Maloney told theSunday Star-Times.
It is understood Cleary's preference was to stay at the Warriors. His family were well settled in Auckland and the benefits of his local development vision were starting to flourish.
Cleary, with a year-and-a-half to run on his contract, told Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah of Gould's proposal and requested an extension in Auckland. It is understood Cleary's approach was purely about long-term security. Money was not a driving factor.
Scurrah claims to have written proof he told Cleary his job was safe and a contract extension was possible. But no formal offer to match the Panthers deal was ever presented and Cleary felt, on that basis, the owners and management had lost faith in him.
“There was no loss of faith. I guaranteed Ivan in writing that his contract would not be terminated and we would review an extended contract,” Scurrah told the Star-Times.
“I outlined a basis for an extended contract and he would have got it. He just had to make the top eight [in 2012]. That wasn't good enough. He rang [owner] Eric [Watson] and asked for a release."
The Warriors are thought to be offering millions to lure a supercoach saviour. That pursuit raises the prospect that Any replacement outside Craig Bellamy, Des Hasler, Wayne Bennett or Tim Sheens will be viewed as second-rate.
It also downgrades the credentials and loyal service of caretaker coach Tony Iro, who is seeking promotion, and Junior Warriors coach John Ackland.
With a little more faith and true long-term vision, the Warriors might not have found themselves in this predicament.
- © Fairfax NZ News