Panthers grab Cleary

THE New Zealand Warriors announced today that coach Ivan Cleary will be leaving the club at the end of the season after signing a three year contract with the Penrith Panthers.

Cleary is currently in his sixth season with the club and was contracted until the end of 2012. The Warriors sit in ninth place on the NRL table, one place ahead of the Panthers, but have hit a form slump recently losing their last four matches.

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Either Tony Iro or Brian McClennan are expected to be in the running to take over as the head coach next season.

While Cleary was contracted until the end of the 2012 season, Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah said both parties had agreed on an early release enabling Cleary to take up a three-year contract as Penrith's new coach.

"There has been a lot of speculation about Ivan's future in recent weeks," said Scurrah.

"This followed an approach by Phil Gould (Penrith's general manager of football), which Ivan informed us of.

At that point, both Ivan and the club confirmed a commitment to see out the full term of his contract to the end of the 2012 season.

"We also agreed to talk at a later date about the future beyond 2012.

"While we were discussing the potential to extend Ivan's contract over the last week, it became apparent to both parties that Ivan had a chance to secure his long-term coaching career with Penrith immediately and that we were not in a position at the moment to guarantee a similar term. Given the circumstances, it also became clear to both of us that it wouldn't have been in anyone's interests for Ivan to fulfil the last year of his contract with the Vodafone Warriors when he had an immediate opportunity offering him significant security elsewhere.

"We're excited for Ivan that he has this opportunity at this stage of his career and we're grateful to him for the fantastic contribution he has made to the Vodafone Warriors."

Penrith last week terminated the contract of head coach Matthew Elliott and appointed his assistant Steve Georgallis as an interim replacement.

Georgallis had immediate success in his temporary role, the Panthers defeating the North Queensland Cowboys 30-20 in front of 14,090 at Centrebet Stadium on Sunday.

A goal-kicking fullback, Cleary finished his playing days at the Warriors from 2000-02. He had previously played for the Sea Eagles, the North Sydney Bears and the Roosters, setting the competition's record for points in a season in 1998 with the Roosters. His last match was the 2002 grand final for the Warriors, which was lost to the Roosters.

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