Ivan Cleary says he’s confident Cameron Ciraldo is in no rush to leave the Panthers if… the Bulldogs begin to monitor candidates for the role of head coach which will be vacant in 2023.
Cleary also ruled out the possibility that Trent Barrett, that Sunday the Bulldogs stoppedwas able to return to his assistant coach job with the Panthers at short notice.
Cleary’s right-hand man, Ciraldo, is highly regarded throughout the league and is seen as the architect of the Panthers’ rock-solid defense.
Most recently, when a knee infection took out Cleary, Ciraldo coached the Panthers to victory against the Melbourne Storm in Magic Round.
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Ciraldo was previously linked with the job as head coach of the Wests Tigers and seems like a natural choice for the Bulldogs in 2023, especially given that he is canceling his contract this season.
Cleary has not spoken to Ciraldo about his interest in the Bulldogs job, but said he did not believe his right-hand man was in a rush to become a full-time head coach.
“Cam is a pending head coach, everyone knows, but I don’t think he’s in a rush. We will just continue as normal,” said Cleary, who will resume head coaching duties against the Roosters on Saturday.
“He’s super valuable, I love having him here. He’s a great trainer.”
Cleary admitted it was only a matter of time before a rival club made Ciraldo an offer too good to refuse and his departure would hurt the Panthers.
“Any talented and valuable member of a club – player or staff – would be a loss, but one day it will happen. It would be good for him and his family,” Cleary said.
Cleary revealed that he had been in touch with Barrett since he left the Bulldogs after a string of poor performances to start the season.
The pair have a close relationship – Barrett was Penrith’s attacking coach in their 2020 season which culminated in the club’s first major final in 17 years.
Cleary is said to know something about how Barrett feels after leaving the Phil Gould-run Panthers in public circumstances in 2015.
But Cleary said he hadn’t given Barrett more advice as he set out to rebuild his coaching career.
“We’ve exchanged messages,” Cleary said.
“Baz has been through it before (with the Sea Eagles) and I don’t really know the situation. As long as he’s okay and his family is good, that’s the main thing.”
Cleary said he’d be open to it if Barrett returned to the base of the mountains one day, but an immediate return was off the table.
“It would be a possibility, I haven’t really thought about it, but there are no openings here at the moment,” he said.
“Trent has done an absolutely amazing job here.”
With the likes of Isaah Yeo, Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, and Brian To’o all seemingly slated for roster in the upcoming State of Origin series, Cleary admitted that the Panthers would likely have a few lean weeks this winter.
The Panthers only lost a game in the Origin period last season and then left two in a row.
“It’s a challenge. Last year was the first time we actually did it. We learned a few things,” he said.
But Cleary is looking at the positives: the Origin period will likely give Penrith a chance to bleed youngsters from his famous nursery, much like last season with Izack Tago and Lindsay Smith.
“The NSW Cup team is doing well, so that’s good,” said Cleary.
“Hopefully guys come in and play well, we just have to make sure we get the chemistry right during that period.
“It’s actually quite exciting, something to look forward to.”
Cleary also threw his support behind Stephen Crichton, who is in the running to replace the injured Latrell Mitchell at the centers for NSW.
“I think he’s had a really good season,” Cleary said.
“He plays well in big games… in terms of the arena and stuff, he could handle it.”
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