Warriors set to sign 'Bluey' this week

RESPECTED: Brian McClennan led the Kiwis to victory in the 2005 Tri Nations.
RESPECTED: Brian McClennan led the Kiwis to victory in the 2005 Tri Nations.

The Warriors are expected to confirm rugby league's worst-kept secret and will unveil Brian "Bluey" McClennan as their new head coach on Wednesday.

The former Kiwis and Leeds Rhinos coach has been the frontrunner from the moment Ivan Cleary confirmed he would take a job with the Penrith Panthers next year.

Having guided the Kiwis to glory in the 2005 Tri Nations and backed that up with two premierships during his three-year tenure with Leeds in the English Super League, McClennan is seen by Warriors insiders as the right man for the job.

He is also popular with New Zealand league fans, who are overwhelmingly in favour of him being given the reins at Mt Smart Stadium next year.

Warriors CEO Wayne Scurrah refused to comment on the speculation yesterday other than to say his priority had been to sign "the best man for the job".

He has previously said the club would look to make an appointment in early August.

The club is understood to have fielded interest in the job from coaches with Super League and NRL experience.

But with no other candidates boasting a superior record to McClennan's, it eventually became a three-way race for Cleary's soon-to-be vacant job between the former Kiwis boss, Warriors under-20s coach John Ackland and first-grade assistant coach Tony Iro.

Ackland, a former first-grade assistant, has worked wonders with the club's under-20s team since taking over as coach last year.

In 2010, the Junior Warriors under Ackland won the NRL's under-20s competition and through 20 rounds this year are again on top of the table.

Given his success at that level, it's likely Ackland – a good friend of McClennan's – will stay on in the important role of developing future Warriors stars.

Iro is also expected to stay on in his current role and will assist McClennan next year.

He has never publicly revealed whether he wanted to take over from Cleary but it's likely his inexperience as a senior coach put him in the pecking order behind McClennan.

Iro is highly rated by both Warriors players and officials, however, and is seen by many as an NRL first-grade coach in waiting.

McClennan couldn't be reached for comment yesterday and has kept his head down throughout the process.

But on the day that Cleary announced at a press conference in Auckland his intention to stand down as Warriors coach a year before his contract ended, McClennan made it clear in an interview with Fairfax that he wanted to be Cleary's replacement.

He will now get his wish.

Sunday Star Times