By the end of the 2009 NRL season I thought there was more chance of Paris Hilton’s soon to be drug addled brain coming up with a viable solution to solving the sizable Middle East peace issues than there was of Ivan Cleary being the right person to coach the New Zealand Warriors. Wouldn’t get them to the top eight let alone a grand final this year, I had decided at the time.
Well, I was wrong. I got it all so wrong. That’s right, wrong. Cleary has put in a masterful performance in getting his side into finals football. That he has taken what was a rabble of a team at the end of 2009 and turned them into a serious finals contender says a lot about his coaching ability.
He admitted earlier this year that he and his coaching team had got the fitness routine wrong. He has shown admirable qualities by admitting he made mistakes, and then setting about not repeating those same errors. To put an Oscar Wilde slant on it: it may be considered a misfortune to make a mistake once, but to repeat it just seems like carelessness. In this case one could hint at it been even worse than that. Well, Cleary has shown himself to be a smart operator by not slipping into such a careless method of thinking. Instead, he didn’t panic and calmly set about righting what went wrong.
What’s more, he has had to negotiate his way through this season with a litany of injuries. Quite possibly, the Warriors have had the worst injury toll of any of the sixteen clubs. Not only have that, but almost all of the sidelined players been Cleary’s star playing staff. At various stages he has been without Simon Mannering, Brent Tate, Manu Vatuvei, Brett Seymour and Sam Rapira. This list doesn’t even take into account the loss of Steve Price who has had to retire without playing one match in 2010.
So Cleary has achieved what are undeniably fine results with at times a young inexperienced side. Which one cannot deny bodes well for future seasons, regardless of what happens from here on in during the upcoming final’s series. He now has a more than adequate halves pairing in Seymour and James Maloney at his disposal. Both possess extremely handy kicking games, and have enhanced their side’s attacking credentials. And in Maloney, Cleary has the added benefit of a reliable goal kicker.
Throw into the mix of ingredients for next year Feleti Mateo and for the first time since the great Ali Lauatiti, the Warriors will soon have a ball playing second rower. With Cleary’s apparent calm demeanour, Mateo will more than likely give this side the x-factor it needs to become one of the true heavyweights of the competition.
All this aside, let’s not forget that this season has not faded out for the Warriors. They are a team on the way up and appear to peaking at the right time of the year. The young players have had to stand up and take more responsibility due to the injuries suffered, which will no doubt stand them in good stead for September football. As a team they have improved their defence under Cleary immeasurably. In past seasons they have been known for their flamboyant attacking style but not always for their defensive fortitude. Well Cleary has well and truly changed that. They are now one of the more formidable defensive units in the competition. And as they showed against Brisbane in the weekend, when the forwards go straight up the middle of the park and set a substantial and solid platform, then the backs are very much capable of making line breaks that can lead to a phlethora of points. So the attack is there when the opportunity presents itself.
And, it seems too, that in Cleary the players trust. That they, in general, play well, would suggest a team that have faith in their coach.
So, the immediate future is looking good with the real possibility of Cleary’s men delving deep into the soon to be contested final’s month. And if it is not meant to be this season, then there is a realistic hope that with Cleary at the helm and continuing the good work that he has been doing, then the Mt Smart faithful are in for a lot of happy times over the next few years.
By the way, just to reiterate; I was WRONG. Ivan Cleary, you have done a fantastic job.