Cleary family wins National Rugby League title with Penrith
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Father and son got it done for the Penrith Panthers.
Ivan Cleary won a National Rugby League grand final for the first time after two previous defeats as a coach and his son Nathan was named the man-of-the match as the Panthers beat the South Sydney Rabbitohs, co-owned by actor Russell Crowe, 14-12 in the championship match at Brisbane.
The match was moved to Brisbane from its usual grand final home of Sydney’s Olympic stadium due to an ongoing new wave of COVID-19 in the city. And Sunday’s match in Brisbane was questionable for a few days due to a smaller outbreak in the Queensland capital.
The Clearys became the second father-and-son duo to win an NRL grand final — John and Martin Lang won the 2003 title, also with the Panthers.
“We went through some hard times two years ago when I felt a bit guilty and his form wasn’t where it could have been,” Ivan Cleary said said of the difficulties of coaching his son. “But in the end I think that helped. When the siren went and I saw him out there, it’s all about . . . he’s still my boy.”
Nathan Cleary was aware of the criticism his father had endured with his decision to return to Penrith for a second stint in charge after his first came to an end with his firing in October 2015.
The 23-year-old halfback said Sunday’s win 12 months after a 26-20 defeat in the NRL decider against Melbourne showed how wrong the critics were.
“A lot of people wrote us off,” Nathan Cleary said. “I have been dreaming of this moment since I was a kid. I was grateful to play one NRL game but to win a grand final — and to do it with dad and people I have grown up with? It’s special.”
Not only did Ivan, a former goal-kicking fullback who set an NRL season scoring record in 1998, win a title for the first time as coach but the had the honor presenting the Clive Churchill Medal for player of the game to Nathan.
“That was completely out of this world,” Ivan Cleary said. “I couldn’t even have written that story. I didn’t know it was happening or I had to do it.”
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