Lang on League: Chairman’s gamble pays off

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Towards the end of 2018 while Penrith supporters were panicking about potentially losing Nathan Cleary to the Tigers, Panthers Chairman Dave O’Neill was working hard to bring Ivan Cleary back to the foot of the Mountains.

It was an ingenious idea because let’s face it, no one saw it coming, until it happened. O’Neill knew the young superstar wanted to work with his father and that Ivan wanted to work with his son and he was determined to make it happen but not at the Tigers.

It was a messy transition and it fractured more than a few friendships, but O’Neill knew bringing Ivan back was the best chance the club had to win a premiership.

Panthers Chairman David O’Neill. Photo: Melinda Jane.

It certainly didn’t look like a great decision 10 rounds into 2019 when the Panthers had a 2-8 win-loss ratio. However O’Neill stood solid and backed the coach, he never flinched once, even when the critics were baying for his blood.

Meanwhile, Ivan began revamping the roster, turning it into a team which could execute his vision to perfection. He let go many fan favourites and stacked the side with talented local juniors.

Now going into Round 10 of 2020 the Panthers are flying high in second spot and Cleary is on track to win Coach of the Year.

But let’s not forget the man who made it all possible. Dave O’Neill, take a bow.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary. Photo: NRL Images.

What caught my eye last week…

What else but the four try debut by 19-year-old Panthers flyer Charlie Staines against the Sharks last Saturday afternoon. The kid can motor like a Ferrari, which is the nickname teammates have bestowed upon him and you know what, it fits him perfectly.

Charlie Staines scores for Penrith. Photo: NRL Images.

What game I’m looking forward to…

The clash between the Roosters and Canberra on Thursday night may end up being a defining game for the Raiders. The Green Machine are a shadow of the team they were last year and are losing key players left, right and centre. Coach Ricky Stuart knows he needs to win this one or risk losing touch with the top four sides.

My tips for the week…

Roosters, Storm, Tigers, Dragons, Broncos, Knights, Eels, Sharks, Panthers.

The final word…

I have to admit I was one of the people who thought that bringing Ivan Cleary back to the club last year was an ingenious idea but one which wasn’t going to work out.

I now believe Cleary when he said he not only returned to Penrith to coach his son but because he had some unfinished business.

I can’t wait to see him finish it!

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