Mannering’s latest club trophy justified recognition but an indictment on his team
Yawn - Simon Mannering has been named the Warriors' player of the year. Again.
On one hand, this is justified recognition for an unsung hero of New Zealand sport. Mannering carries the weight of captaining club and country teams which invariably fail, yet his own form stays strong. He is also an exception to the rule, proof positive that it is possible to produce quality, tough, day-in-day-out NRL footballers from within the Warriors if you can spot the raw ingredients.
On the other hand, his latest club trophy is an indictment on the Warriors. A workhorse forward - and Mannering is one of the best in the game - might win the club accolade on the back of a brilliant season ... now and then. But four years out of the past seven? Many in the squad need to take a good long look in the mirror and learn a few lessons. The staggering fact is that in 20 years of a few ups and lots of downs, the Warriors have probably produced only one Mannering-type from within the ranks. That's not a good average.
I don't want to take anything away from Mannering, but then again I do. It's time for Shaun Johnson, Konrad Hurrell, Sam Tomkins or even Feleti Mateo (to take a trip into fantasy) to step up, to be the undisputed star, to lead the club to the promised land rather than firing every now and then.
Mannering is the glue, not the glitter. Players like Mannering are indispensable, vital, but they aren't the ones who make a premiership winning difference. So well done Simon Mannering - you are a legend and let's hope you never win player of the year again.
Which brings us to Ivan Cleary. He's the NRL coach of the year already, for this punter's money. Cleary and Mannering are cut from the same cloth. They are true professionals who make little fuss. Mannering pays a lot of attention to detail on the field, and Cleary does likewise off it. They both attract utmost respect and trust.
Cleary was interviewed during the current NRL finals series and I fell asleep after the first sentence. Cleary needs to come with a snooze alarm. He's like Robbie Deans with the brakes on. His boss at the Penrith Panthers is Phil Gould, who always has the brakes off.
This chalk and cheese combo has worked wonders at the Panthers, and funnily enough, Cleary grew as a coach under the mentoring of former Warriors' director John Hart, another outgoing character in the Gould mould although publicly Hart kept his head down at the league club.
Cleary took a while to find his feet as Warriors' head coach and some of us (hand up here) doubted he ever would, were distressed at his minimal public profile in a sport that needs a bit of chat, and thought he was not taking advantage of Auckland's traditional playing-style advantages.
But Cleary was in the slow-cooker results business. He turned the club into a bunker, and worked his magic alongside trusted allies Hart, Tony Iro and John Ackland. He even got Mateo playing well.
The Warriors made a grand final, and then Cleary was off amid typical Warriors messiness.
Cleary is doing the business again. The Panthers are over-achievers with a never-say-die attitude. They don't tolerate Warriors-type loafers and grabbed a couple of Auckland's toughest homegrown players - Elijah Taylor and Lewis Brown.
Considering their lengthy injury list, the Panthers' win over the star-studded Roosters was among the most memorable NRL playoff upsets. Meanwhile Iro, an immensely popular figure who now works for the New Zealand Rugby League, has been mentioned as a potential assistant for the Warriors coach Andrew McFadden. Sounds like a good move.