Former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary has followed in the footsteps of Australian coaching legend Wayne Bennett in becoming a Kiwis World Cup assistant coach; a move New Zealand coach Steven Kearney has labelled an ''ideal fit.''
Cleary was announced as Kearney's assistant at NZRL headquarters in Auckland yesterday, with the Panthers first-grade coach taking the role until the end of the World Cup, held in the Northern Hemisphere, in late November.
Bennett was the assistant to Kearney in 2008, when New Zealand won their first ever World Cup, in Australia.
The decision to appoint Cleary was made following the 2013 Anzac test in Canberra this April, with NZRL management deciding that Kearney needed more help with previous assistant Tony Iro also undertaking the team manager position.
Several names were suggested, but Kearney, Iro - who will now be the team's full-time manager - and NZRL chief executive Phil Holden were in agreement that Cleary was the right man for the job.
''Working through the Anzac test week, with Tony taking up a management role, I needed an assistant to help in my duties,'' Kearney said.
''It was a matter of who we thought would be best fit for the job and Ivan...has got a wonderful relationship with New Zealand and Kiwis, [and has worked] with a number of the group with the Warriors. It was an easy fit in that sense.''
Cleary will also join the NZRL as a selector heading into the World Cup, providing Kearney, who is the Broncos assistant coach, with an extra pair of eyes across the Tasman.
Speaking on a video link-up from Sydney, Cleary, the Warriors first-grade coach between 2006 and 2011, admitted the approach from the Kiwis was a shock - but was looking forward to the opportunity to coach on the international stage.
''I was shocked,'' he said. ''It really took me back. I was really humbled to get the opportunity and very excited about it, as well.''
''I guess it's like anything in life, you want to reach higher honours,'' he said, of coaching internationally. ''It's there, but I was probably too busy trying to keep a job down, doing what I was doing. When the opportunity came up, it didn't take it me too long to take it.''
Kearney admitted he used Cleary's relationship with Kiwis skipper Simon Mannering to sell the assistant role to the former Warriors boss.
''We actually used Simon to push the case a bit,'' Kearney said. ''They have a really close relationship, obviously. [It's] a logical fit in that sense.
''[Cleary's] experience and what he has to offer a football group ... the more minds we have together trying to win a World Cup, I think the better.
''I think collectively between myself, Tony and Ivan we've got a pretty good group with a talent group of players. It's a good mix.''
- © Fairfax NZ News