The Cleary’s and Sims – Two chilled, one scrambling

Ivan and Nathan Cleary
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Instead of violence, instead of assault, and instead of negative vibes, we are witnessing one of the more beautiful occurrences within the game of Rugby League. Currently, Ivan & Nathan Cleary are the Father and Son, coach and player duo, capturing the Rugby League world by storm. The 51-years-of-age twice times Panthers coach and miraculous New South Wales Halfback recently led Penrith to a commanding Premiership triumph, albeit the first in eighteen merciless and long years (2021 – 2003). And with the two ‘Mountain Men’ having each just inked new deals until the conclusion of the 2027 campaign, we will get to take in their profound impact on Australian sport for a myriad of seasons to come.

As impressive as what the two Sydney-born fellas are doing for the ‘Chocolate Soldiers,’ as mentioned before, the NRL can also be a complex organisation to be a part of, depending upon which club you represent. Less than 120KMs away in Wollongong is Tariq Sims. A barging 6X NSW capped Second-Rower/Lock who was only recently told by the Dragons that he was ‘unwanted’ and that his current deal, which expires after this season, would not be extended beyond that. He is a player who has given multiple years of service to St. George (since 2016) and has always put his body on the line for his teammates. A questionable move has shown the club’s issues, to be sure!

For the Cleary’s, their arduous work and dedication to the Panthers paid off handsomely in the form of their early October victory over the Rabbitohs. However, as you’ve no doubt just red, Sims hasn’t been so lucky in his recent NRL ventures. It’s not his fault that the Dragons management team bungles things more often than Scott Morrison and Clive Palmer combined! It’s also not his fault that his soulless team has tasted success just once this season from five outings when he’s been averaging 97 running ms per match, 1.5 tackle breaks per game and has completed 98/108 attempted tackles (91% success rate)!

Two obvious questions that these events of recent days raise are 1. – Why are they different? And 2. – What does it mean for their respective futures. All of that and much more will be answered right here and right now.

Same, same, but incredibly inconsequently different

As good as Sims is, he’s never won a Premiership, whilst he’s also played with some scrappy teams during his time, particularly in the earlier parts of his career with the Cowboys and the latter with the Dragons. Whereas, as discussed earlier, both Ivan & Nathan own a special place in Panthers history after guiding them to a Premiership not too long ago. Tariq regrettably does not have that cemented history with anyone given club, as opposed to the former Warriors player/coach and 10X Blues representative who most certainly do.

I understand ultimately that players have to do what is best for their career and themselves instead of putting the club first. Still, a mid-season switch is never a good look, no matter how talented the individual is or the reasons behind the move. It’s also primarily forgotten by the average fan that during the 2016 season, Sims contested just eight matches for the Knights before he swapped jerseys for the ‘Red V’. It is slightly ironic that the franchise he ditched his current employers for (changed from Newcastle to St. George) is now showing him the door. Ivan Cleary, in comparison, was sacked by Phil Gould in 2015, yet after a short stint in charge of the Tigers and when the opportunity presented itself, he didn’t hesitate to move back to ‘The Foot of the Mountains’ in 2019. The latter displays loyalty all over. As for Tariq, it may not be such a significant factor for him. Each to their own, but it’s paid off for Cleary.

What do their futures hold?

For Ivan & Nathan, they’re only just getting started. Ivan mostly is relatively destressed as a coach, whilst Nathan scarily has plenty of improvement, especially when factoring in crucial points such as his age, style of play and surroundings. Cleary’s deal will undoubtedly see him overtake the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Munster, Adam Reynolds, Nicho Hynes and more as the best Playmaker the game has to offer. Last season alone, Nathan crossed the line for eight tries and registered 17-try assists through 21-matches contested. Another season of brilliance from the 5/5 Panthers should only see him add more tricks and skills to his game in due course. And aiding that will be the continuous rise of his similarly aged teammates, such as Charlie Staines, Jarome Luai, and Liam Martin, as he plays with such fabulous players, adding to his electric surroundings at the only club known for his entire professional career to date.

And linking back to Ivan, he previously led the Warriors to the 2011 Grand Final, as he did with Penrith the season before they toppled South Sydney, going down by just a converted try to Melbourne. And he knows what it takes to lead an underdog deep into the underbelly of an Australian Rugby League season! By most metrics, Phil Gould (LOL) can appear to be a bit of an arrogant, know-it-all idiot. However, it was a ballsy yet genius move to help bring Ivan back into the fold, and it has already and quite clearly paid massive dividends for the club.

Sims shouldn’t be too discouraged, as he still has a lot to offer to potential suitors. He would perfectly suit up in a Tigers uniform and could most definitely succeed in helping out the likes of defensively struggling clubs such as Canterbury and Canberra. At the same time, Newcastle should be checking if his mobile number is still the same as when he was playing for them! However, and regrettably, his prime bulldozing years are also behind him. But as a serviceable veteran who wouldn’t command too much coin, he’d be worth a punt for most. A bit of a “punt on a grunt”, so to speak, to reference the infamous comedy TV show, Peep Show.

Regardless of who you support or who you prefer, all three men have given a lot to the NRL, and they deserve our respect. Yet, for Ivan & Nathan, despite their ample experience, they’re only really just getting started in Mt Druitt. Whereas for Sims, despite being let go by the Dragons (they are too incompetent to deserve him anyway), he ought to go to a franchise that will respect him and give him the kudos he very well deserves. It’s an interesting path ahead for all of them, but it’ll also be an extreme beauty to witness.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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