Ivan Cleary.
Ivan Cleary. Greg Bowker - NZ Herald

How will Cleary be remembered?

THE manner in which Ivan Cleary ends his six-year tenure as Warriors coach will be determined over the next seven days.

Cleary is adamant he can continue to perform in his job despite having pledged his allegiance to the Panthers next season.

What that job entails - and possibly how much longer he gets to do it - will depend on how his players perform against the Titans at Mt Smart tonight and the Bulldogs next week.

Having lost four consecutive matches between their byes, the Warriors' season is teetering. If they don't stop the rot against the bottom-placed Titans and the struggling Bulldogs, the finals will be a pipe dream. What's more, Cleary's position would surely become untenable.

It's hard to imagine much of a justification for keeping a coach who has overseen such a slide while negotiating his own exit.

Cleary limited his statements on the matter to confirming he was "100 per cent" sure he could continue to do his job unimpeded.

He is, however, aware of the predicament his side is now in.

"We can't keep losing, that is for sure," he said. "You do have your little dips and peaks throughout the season but we know in the next fortnight we have to put some good, strong performances together."

With senior players such as Sam Rapira and Micheal Luck returning to the side and a run of favourable fixtures coming up over the next month, Cleary has every reason to be confident he can remain at his post until his planned departure date.

If he can negotiate the next seven days, a clear enough passage to the finals and one last stab at a grand final run awaits.

His senior players have certainly lined up behind him.

Captain Simon Mannering and vice-captain Luck have dismissed suggestions that last week's announcement could harm the team.

"Honestly I don't think it has been [disruptive]," Luck said. "It was dealt with last week and now it is water under the bridge. We have got a job to do for the next nine weeks to get ourselves back in contention. In the context of our season, it is a pretty important three or four weeks coming up. That is all we are worried about now."

Mannering, who has played all but the first season of his NRL career under Cleary, admitted he was shocked to learn of the coach's decision to accept Phil Gould's overtures and seek an early release from his contract.

"When I first found out it was a little bit of a shock, even though you hear whispers," Mannering said. "But Ivan made it pretty clear that we were going to put it behind us the day after the announcement. He is still here to do a job this year and so are we as players. From then on we have been carrying on as normal."

Maybe, but there is no doubt the Warriors will be directly under the microscope tonight. Those looking into the lens will be scanning keenly for any signs that Cleary's soon-to-depart status has loosened his grip on his players' hearts and minds.

"If we get caught worrying about that, that's when you get in trouble," Luck said. "The best lesson I've ever learned is that when you are in these situations you only worry about what you can control.

"All we can do is prepare the best we can, not worry about the peripheral stuff, and play footy. It is what we love doing and we love playing to win. That is all we need to do [tonight]."

Cleary maintains that the signs in the round 16 defeat by Melbourne were largely positive.

With Luck, Rapira and Kevin Locke back to bolster the side, that improvement should mean a comfortable win.

If it doesn't, Cleary's reign at the club won't end happily, regardless of whether he hangs on until September.

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