All the talk about the Dally M Coach of the Year seems to be around North Queensland’s Todd Payten and Cronulla’s Craig Fitzgibbon.
Both have produced tremendous, almost unexpected seasons with their clubs – Payten taking the Cowboys to the top four, Fitzgibbon achieving the same in his first season as a head coach.
But imagine not giving your Coach of the Year gong to the man who guided his side to the Minor Premiership by four competition points?
Imagine not giving it to a coach who produced one of the best regular season Premiership defences anyone can remember?
Imagine not giving to the person who guided their team through an almost unprecedented representative drain, without losing a single game?
Cleary has not only delivered the wins on the board but did it in such a way that his management and planning rose to the fore.
And he did it with a few significant personal health battles lurking in the background too.
The Minor Premiership-winning coach isn’t always necessarily the obvious choice for Coach of the Year and circumstances must of course come into play.
But even when the situations of the Sharks and Cowboys are thrown into the mix, it’s hard to argue Cleary isn’t the leader of the pack.
He simply can’t be ignored and deserves the recognition.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.