Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Ivan Cleary v Andrew McFadden not a fair fight

Ivan Cleary in 2006. Photo / Wayne Drought.
Ivan Cleary in 2006. Photo / Wayne Drought.

A Herald on Sunday headline claimed the Warriors face a coaching conundrum.

I beg to differ. If Ivan Cleary is available, bring him back. Easy choice, people.

And according to the HoS, Cleary - who has made grand finals as a coach and player at the Warriors - sees himself as a career coach, and loved his time in Auckland. This sounds like a declaration of availability without actually saying so, probably in deference to the current coach.

Wild prediction: Cleary - who in actors' parlance is between coaching jobs - will lead the Warriors next year. Cleary v current coach Andrew McFadden is not a fair fight.

Cleary's record in Auckland is vastly superior. In contrast McFadden's team have gone backwards, and he has no proven track record.

The defence has been awful in 2016. The attack was uninspired and one dimensional.

Key players, led by Ben Matulino and Issac Luke, were way below their best. Rising star Tui Lolohea is confused and gun shy. Another rising star, David Fusitua, has been shifted around too many positions. Nobody is in career best form, although the redoubtable Thomas Leuluai has been a rock and young forward Sam "Long Run Up" Lisone gives it everything.

There are a few rumours out there, which is the way it should be. One of them is that the Warriors still desire the Melbourne coaching genius - and he really is a genius - Craig Bellamy. Bellamy could complicate matters. Otherwise, it should be Cleary in, McFadden out.

The 24 - 36 loss against the Wests Tigers last week was the Warriors coaching eureka moment - McFadden hasn't got what it takes for now.

Everything was on the line. The Tigers came to town in a shaky state, with their best attacking player James Tedesco missing. They were there for the taking. The Tigers scored 36 points, going away at the end.

All it took was a few things to go against the Warriors, and they kind of gave up. The desperation of the situation did not translate onto the field, which says that the players don't know where to channel their energies under McFadden. There is something very, very wrong with McFadden's Warriors no matter what players like Ryan Hoffman and Jacob Lillyman say in support of the coach.

To get the platitudes out of the way, McFadden appears to be a man of integrity and honour. But he is in a long list of those baffled by the peculiar problems in Auckland, the main ones being an uncompetitive junior/club system compared to Australia and a Warriors history of management instability.

Cleary got close to unravelling the mystery, but left with a hint of acrimony in the air before the job was really done. If there were any lingering problems between Cleary and the Warriors, the Herald on Sunday story can be seen as an olive branch, a clearing of the way for his return.

Cleary's Warriors consistently made the top eight and one even made a grand final, if slightly fortuitously. His win ratio is around 50 per cent. By Warriors standards, this is a roaring success.

At 45, Cleary is still a young coach. Outwardly laconic, he still has a fire in the belly for NRL coaching left smouldering since being cruelly cut by his Penrith mentor Phil Gould after the 2015 season (Cleary's Panthers finished 4th and 11th).

In contrast, McFadden's Warriors have fallen apart, and the men who run the club - Eric Watson and Jim Doyle - won't be amused. They may even be embarrassed, particularly after losing eight straight at the end of 2015.

This was supposed to be a break through year and Watson was confident:

"We are very close" is how he put it to me before the season started, when I accepted his top-eight-or-not wager following my prediction the club would fail yet again.

One of the key indicators to me had been the sight of Issac Luke turning up out of condition for a pre-season trial. That was a dreadful sign from a big signing, a player who was there to kick start a new era.

Succumbing to an impetuous side - fortunately I hardly ever gamble - I let the loyal owner have ridiculously favourable odds involving his favourite wine.

Wonder what odds he'd give on a Cleary return right now.

Most importantly, does Watson hold any ill-feelings towards Cleary over the way he left after the 2011 season?

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