A proud and emotional Ivan Cleary has paid tribute to his players and staff across the Penrith organisation after the Panthers enjoyed a history-making day which saw them become the first club ever to claim premierships in four separate grades.
“It’s been an unbelievable season for our club – it’s never been done before, four grades. It’s hard to put that into words,” Cleary said post-match after Penrith had produced a masterclass against Parramatta to claim their second-straight premiership in the NRL.
“It’s honestly hard to explain how good it feels, because it can be gone. In all of those grades, there is grand finals to play and there’s sudden-death semi-finals. Anything can go wrong.”
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The coach revealed he’d been more emotional than usual entering into his side’s third grand final in a row. The fact that so many people were moving on weighing heavily on his mind.
His assistants Andrew Webster and Camron Ciraldo will both leave to take up positions as head coaches at the Warriors and Bulldogs, respectively. Meanwhile, key players Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau will depart as the Panthers deal with the ripple effects of their incredible success.
“It’s certainly been an emotional 24 hours,” the now two-time premiership winning coach said.
“I got a bit emotional yesterday; I don’t even know why. Just quiet moments on my own.
“It came over me… I think it’s just because this moment in time and this team won’t stay together.”
The Panthers have been the benchmark all season, claiming the minor premiership and only losing four games all year. Yet, Cleary was well aware this would count for nothing if they failed to turn their dominance into currency during the grand final.
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“It was just such a great opportunity and such an amazing season,” he said.
“We’ve done so well for so long and you kind of think ‘anyone can win any game’ and I just
wanted today to go well.
“I suppose I just wanted it to go well on the biggest night. I honestly couldn’t have asked for more. The boys were unbelievable.”
The Panthers produced arguably one of the most complete performances in grand final history, dominating from the first whistle with their physicality and experience shining through.
“It was a dream come true that first-half,” Cleary said. “I just sat back and watched the boys go to work.”
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The coach identified the individuals operating behind-the-scenes, who had a crucial role to play in the club’s successes, noting how they’ll never get the recognition they deserve but how it doesn’t stop them from acting in the Panthers’ best interests.
“Our club is very aligned,” he stated.
“Everybody is their own person, but we all are woven together by a common thread of doing our best for the club.
“We have a lot of people in our pathways that work so hard and don’t get any credit and don’t seek it either. I think that’s probably the secret.”
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Despite sweeping Parramatta aside with relative ease to win their second premiership, Cleary couldn’t help but feel the achievement was bittersweet, while claiming he’d savour the victory.
“It’s very sad that in our team this year, not only players but coaching staff will never be together again,” he admitted.
“I’m very lucky and certainly blessed to be their coach. I don’t think we are going to be sad tonight, we are going to be happy.”