Ivan Cleary hit out at "misinformation" around his coaching future on Saturday as he reaffirmed his commitment to see out his contract with the Wests Tigers after Penrith made a move to poach him.
Reading a prepared statement to the media this morning, an angry Cleary quashed talk about a return to the club he was sacked from three years ago, easing the fears of Tigers fans who have been bombarded with talk he may leave Concord for western Sydney.
Cleary is contracted to the Tigers until the end of 2020 but was linked with a move to Penrith after Anthony Griffin was axed just a month out from the finals. However, Cleary said when he was approached by the Panthers he had no idea it was about returning to the club to coach.
He also said he had not received any offer from Penrith and intended to honour his deal with the Tigers.
"I'm very disappointed with the amount of misinformation about me and my family this week," Cleary told reporters. "When I was approached by the Panthers initially I had no idea it was about coaching their club.
"I advised the Panthers of my ongoing contract status with the Wests Tigers.
"I was as surprised as anyone at the announcement of the dismissal of Anthony Griffin.
"I am enjoying my contribution at this club, the club is growing nicely, everyone associated with this club should be proud of the journey it's heading in.
"I intend to honour this contract."
Cleary refused to answer questions that weren't about his side's game against Canberra on Sunday after he finished his statement.
Cameron Ciraldo has taken the reins as caretaker coach but Penrith's general manager of football Phil Gould revealed the club didn't have a definite replacement for Griffin next year.
Panthers chairman Dave O'Neill, a close friend of Cleary's, gauged his interest in returning to the club last week and the 47-year-old informed his bosses at the Tigers about the chat.
Cleary gave no public indication he was contemplating a return to Penrith but that didn't stop the rumour mill going into overdrive that he could well be at the helm of the Panthers in 2019.
Earlier in the week Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe and chairwoman Marina Go hit out at the Panthers. Go said pursuing a coach with two more years left to run on his contract was unethical, while Pascoe said Wests wouldn't be bullied into letting Cleary go without a fight.
"We're not going to be pushed aside or bullied or railroaded by anyone," Pascoe said.
"This club, and myself, have to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Wests Tigers and, first and foremost, our fans, our members and our stakeholders.
"Giving our head coach to a rival club is not a decision that is in the best interest of the fans or stakeholders.
"I'm bitterly disappointed that a rival club has decided that it's appropriate practice to try and poach a coach with two-and-a-half years left on his contract.
"My message is very simple: Ivan has been a terrific coach, he has shown great character in what we're trying to build here and we are going to fight tooth and nail.
"This is a really strong, proud club with a lot of rich history and it's a very different club than what it was previously."
Although Gould denied it was a factor in Penrith's talks with Cleary, many believed the western Sydney club's desire to lure him back had plenty to do with his son Nathan, the Panthers' star halfback.
Nathan is off contract at the end of 2019 and the father-son duo have spoken openly about wanting to one day team up at an NRL club — a position the coach doubled down on while addressing reporters on Saturday. By signing Ivan, the Panthers would greatly have increased the likelihood of Nathan — this year's NSW No. 7 — recommitting to the club on a long-term deal.
But with Ivan staying at the Tigers, they will be hopeful he may be able to convince his son to join him at the joint-venture club in the future.