Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was in a reflective mood when he sipped his first celebratory beer in the winning sheds on Sunday night.
An hour after earning his second title in as many years, Cleary admitted that he foxsports.com.au “I still base a lot of my coaching on what I learned from him”.
‘Him’ is Phil Gould, the man who famously fired Cleary in 2015 in Penrith before returning triumphant three years later to build a dynasty with his son Nathan.
Watch every match of the Rugby League World Cup LIVE and exclusively to Fox Sports, on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Brandy talks about Panthers parties | 06:43
Cleary became the second coach in NRL history to win consecutive premierships on Sunday after his side’s emphatic 28-12 win over the Eels.
It had only been 12 months since his ability was called into question as Cleary held the unwanted title of second longest serving coach in rugby league history for failing to win a premiership.
No one had won a grand final after coaching more than 250 games, until Cleary did it last year with 370 to his name over 16 seasons.
If he becomes the first coach next season since Jack Gibson in 1983 to win three consecutive premierships, there will be statues.
It’s a fickle old game, rugby league.
But few would argue that Cleary didn’t work for everything he accomplished in the game.
Not many coaches return to a club from which they were fired, and even fewer take that club to the promised land.
Gould brought him to Penrith to rebuild it after Cleary impressed by taking the Warriors from perennial underperformers to title contenders in six seasons.
Cleary admits the Panthers were at their lowest ebb when they arrived in late 2011, just weeks after leading the Warriors to the Grand Finals.
MORE NRL NEWS
‘DON’T ESCAPE OUR ATTENTION’: Star recruits leave Tigers smoking
‘OUTRAGE IS OUTRAGEOUS’: Geyer condemns criticism of Panthers players for ‘not sleeping’
REVIEW: How Penrith repeat… and what departing stars, cap squeeze means
DELETED POST: Panthers star ‘high chance of missing World Cup games’
But the rebuild wasn’t fast enough for Gould and despite finishing fourth in 2014, he fired Cleary the following year.
Cleary did not coach in 2016 before replacing Jason Taylor with the Wests Tigers for a four-year deal in April 2017.
But the chance to coach his son back to the Panthers proved too alluring and Cleary was released from the last two years of his Tigers relationship in late 2018.
Cleary has had an trying relationship with Gould over the years, but in the sheds on Sunday night, he found praise for the now-Bulldogs general manager.
“I came to the club, he brought me to the club in 2012 and it was pretty much rock bottom,” Cleary said. foxsports.com.au.
“He’s done an incredible job for this club, without him we wouldn’t have the academy we have today.
“Personally, I still base a lot of my coaching on what I learned from him.
MORE NRL NEWS
REVIEW: Eels’ dream season fell short – and now they have to face a cold roster reality
MASTERCLASS: Panthers star Edwards knew GF had won in ‘first few sets’
‘NOT ABOUT MONEY’: Eels Star Looks To Stay As Unsigned Panther Deal Reveals
‘CANNOT FIND A SOLUTION’: Eels face the harsh reality of Moses amid Cleary Gulf
“He’s just one of many people and you could name anyone I see in this room to begin with.
“We can’t do what we do unless everyone is aligned and everyone has the same common goal and that’s what we do.”
Cleary has missed the final in 11 of his 17 coaching seasons, but he is now on the brink of a real dynasty.
The 51-year-old emphasized that his struggles have made him the coach he is today.
“It’s hard to explain, I like coaching, you know, and losing is all part of the journey and you learn along the way,” Cleary said.
“But winning a premiership is just, to be the last man and the last team standing at the end of the day, there’s nothing like it.
“It feels really incredible, I just can’t believe we did it, it was clearly a goal at the start of the year, whether it’s back-to-back or to win another title.
“Then to have the year we had, it’s been such a good year and you can stumble at any time, it’s so hard to win every game.
“They are buddies who show up for each other every day and have fun, but they turn in when the work is done, they always want to get better and they are relentless.
“They’re just so consistent.”
The Panthers lose major final players Viliame Kikau (Bulldogs) and Api Koroisau (Tigers) and five marginal first division players.
Penrith successfully replaced Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell and Paul Momirovski this season, and Cleary supported the nursery that Gould built to continue producing.
“Unfortunately, the salary ceiling is faltering and it’s a very sad situation, but I’m so happy that we were able to make our dreams come true last night,” he said.
“We can really enjoy the coming days, but our mantra as a club is to produce our own players, grow our own players.
“We’ve been able to do that for quite some time now with some success, so we’ll have to keep doing it.”
Get all the latest NRL news, highlights and analysis straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Apply now!!!