SYDNEY - New Zealand Warriors coach Ivan Cleary admits Stacey Jones' retirement and the dearth of quality halfbacks has him scratching his head for next season in the National Rugby League (NRL).
The club confirmed last night Jones had declined their offer of a one-year contact in 2010, and will farewell the Warriors after their home game against Melbourne on September 5.
Cleary said Jones made his feelings plain last week when they met to discuss the prospect of him returning for a 14th NRL season.
"I would have been happy for him to continue on, after what he's done this year, having been out for so long," Cleary said.
"It's too hard if you've got any doubts. We'll move on. It all made sense to him and I understand and support him totally. I think it's the right move."
It leaves Cleary on the difficult hunt for a halfback after the club released the likes of Nathan Fien, Grant Rovelli and up-and-coming youngster Liam Foran in the past year.
He hoped Jones would remain in a mentoring role at the club to help his successor.
"It's not so much a dying art but it's one of those positions where there's not a lot. It's a tough position to play and a lot of heat goes on them. We'll just look around for someone."
He said disgraced Cronulla playmaker Brett Seymour was close to being confirmed for next season but he wasn't seen as a straight replacement for Jones.
The 33-year-old Jones played his 256th NRL match in last night's thrilling 32-32 draw at Penrith.
He was lured back to the Warriors this season after playing the last of his 46 tests for the Kiwis in 2006 and joining French club Catalans Dragons.
He starred in the Warriors' upset win over Manly in round two but his form reflected his team's mixed season as they fell from playoff contention.
"While it has been a disappointing season for us in terms of results, I've really enjoyed having another chance to play in the NRL," Jones said in a statement.
"I love this club and it's a great place to be around but I've decided it's the right time for me to move on and let other players come through."
Cleary was stung by the criticism levelled at Jones during the Warriors' mid-season slump and insisted his halfback wasn't to blame for their struggles.
"He's lacked a bit of support around him at times. But at the end of the day you have to want to (continue playing). Early on he was showing signs he wanted to, but he decided he's going to finish and I'll accept that decision.
"It's just been one of those years where we've had a lot of guys who haven't played at their best throughout the season.
"No matter who you are in this comp, it doesn't take much to go from a winning season to a losing one."