Breaking Bad: League contracts are signed in invisible ink

Matt Cleary Columnist

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    Being surprised and even upset that Ivan Cleary’s been approached to coach Penrith Panthers though he has two years to run on his contract with Wests Tigers is like being part of a community of swingers and upset that your partner is now attracted to someone with whom they’ve just rocked the Casbah.

    I don’t know if that analogy is strictly right. But it’s thereabouts. Because the Shareef may not like it, but what does he expect? It’s wife-swapping, fool.

    And it is in wife-swapping, so it is in rugby league.

    Are you surprised? Upset? That consenting adults are treating contracts as malleable things?

    When did we start getting upset again that people are breaking contracts? Is this 1974? We’ll be talking of loyalty next.

    If it’s in both parties’ interest to break ‘em they’ll break em, as they’ve been breaking ‘em since these half-smart agents worked out you can play both parties and get them both a result, it’s win-win-ka-ching.

    Got a contract? Make a new one! Buy ‘em out! Long as everyone gets paid who thinks they need to be paid, else Des Hasler takes you to court or Gorden Tallis sits out a year, or Sonny Bill Williams up and flies away to France.

    I’m no lawyer. A long freakin’ way away from it. But there must be caveats, exemptions, get-out clauses written into these things.

    Aren’t there?

    Are they written in invisible ink? With clauses that become apparent under pressure?

    Anthony Griffin signed on until the end of 2020. Why doesn’t he sue for breach of contract? Did Penrith breach it?

    Why didn’t Parramatta sue Ricky Stuart for same? Did Stuart breach his conract? Or just exercise a legal clause within?

    As per Penrith.

    These things are written by savvy lawyers at ten paces. They agree to things. They insert caveats. And if Parramatta or Anthony Griffin is upset about being punted for another partner, why sign a contract allowing the partner to do just that?

    Dunno. But you’d suggest it’s because it’s just the done thing. How things roll in the musical chairs in which NRL stands for Not Really Long.

    Would Wests Tigers sue if Ivan Cleary just left? Could they? Or does Ivan have some clause that says he can brush the Tigers, just as the Tigers may have something in the contract that says they can brush him?

    Again. I dunno. These things aren’t public.

    Ivan Cleary in a Wests Tigers jacket.

    (Photo: Matt King/Getty Images)

    But you can make an assumption that it must be in coaches’ contracts that they can be sacked if the board thinks they’re not going well. Else they’d sue for breach of contract, no?

    Maybe it’s how employment contracts roll.

    And if the team’s going like busteds – and thus the coach isn’t performing how he was employed to perform, which is to make the team not go like busteds – the board reserves the right to punt the coach.

    Seems they’ll pay them out to go. But go they do.

    And Anthony Griffin must’ve signed a contract which included that caveat, didn’t he?

    People are saying it’s a “bad look” for rugby league but again I say, Shareef! It’s rugby league! Have you not been watching? The whole freakin’ thing looks bad.

    Wednesday night you had Phil Gould banging away on a podcast. Anthony Griffin telling his side on the telly.

    Bad look? Ha. Stop watching then! You can’t! It’s why we watch: imperfect human beings acting imperfectly.

    I’m not sure if fans even care if the coach moves on. Well, they care. Maybe they even think it’s bad. But waddya gonna do? This stuff happens. What can you do as a fan but cop it sweet? Vent in a forum. Prop up the back bar. But fans gig in the whole game is pay to be entertained. They don’t get a say in the cast.

    Players come and go. Coaches come and go. Fans pick and stick. It’s a job lot.

    I even reckon Tigers fans would understand if Cleary left. I’ll stand corrected. But if they understood Norton Street Leichhardt’s Aaron Woodsy left for a better offer at another club, then they’ll cop Cleary of Collaroy, no?

    Griffin said it on NRL 360 – part of the buzz of the coaching game is living on the knife-edge – rooster one day, feather duster the next. And all because of one thing: “W”s in the column.

    Well – Griffin had a few Ws. Apparently not enough. Or not pretty enough ones. Big Gussy Gould’s made a big call, and check out the big brain on Brad, as they say.

    But he’s brushed a coach who’s been implementing his own plan.

    And winning, mostly. The Panthers’ list is sexy-good. And if they win both Griffin and Gould could take credit.

    You couldn’t get more rugby league if you ate a Steeden.

    People talk of Cleary’s “integrity”, that it might be compromised if he takes the money from Penrith and heads off to coach his son.

    Nathan Cleary

    (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

    But would it? How many of us would understand that it’s just business? And that a bloke’s looking after himself. As everyone does.

    And that he got a really, really good offer. And that part of it was coaching his boy.

    Players would understand. Players have no loyalty to anything but one’s own bottom line.

    Clubs? Ha. Please, they’ll punt players quick as look at ‘em, if they can’t afford ‘em. Coaches, too.
    Business is business.

    Are we really expecting loyalty? For people to honour contracts that both parties are sweet with dishonouring?

    Wests Tigers chair Marina Go said on League Life that it was “poor form” for the Panthers to approach their coach with two years left on his.

    She was asked: “Is it unethical?”

    Go agreed: “Yes.”

    The Wests Tigers are hanging onto Ivan because he’s a super coach and because having terminated Jason Taylor and Mick Potter, and replaced Aaron Woods, Mitchell Moses and James Tedesco with Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, who else could they get?

    “It’s just business,” said Go. “We just want to retain our coach.”

    Read: if Cleary really wants to go we want to be suitably compensated by Penrith Panthers’ poker machines.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website. You can find more of his golf columns over at Patreon.

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • Roar Rookie

      August 10th 2018 @ 6:34am
      Tim Carter said | August 10th 2018 @ 6:34am | ! Report

      Wasn’t it the Sharia? Not really the point, I know.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2018 @ 6:40am
        The Barry said | August 10th 2018 @ 6:40am | ! Report

        No, it’s shareef. Not the point but important none the less… 😁

    • Roar Guru

      August 10th 2018 @ 6:38am
      The Barry said | August 10th 2018 @ 6:38am | ! Report

      I don’t get why this contract thing keeps coming up as an issue.

      Contracts are agreements enforceable by law. They protect each party in case the other changes their mind and wants to exit the contract early.

      In the Griffin, Hasler, SBW and to a lesser degree Tallis cases the contracts in place did exactly what they were designed to do. One party changed their minds, they wanted out, they paid for the privilege.

      I think the issue here is more about Ivan’s integrity rather than his legal right to break a contract. It’s not that long ago we had the whole “on the bus” speech from Cleary now he’s looking at leaving the Tigers in the lurch to go back to the club that sacked him three years ago as a bargaining chip because they now want his son so badly.

      He hasn’t yet completed a full season as coach of the Tiges. He better hope things work out at the Panthers because I’m not sure he’s going to get another NRL job in a hurry.

      • August 10th 2018 @ 10:29am
        JoM said | August 10th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

        When Moses wanted to go, wasn’t it Cleary who said a contract is a contract and had to be honoured?

    • August 10th 2018 @ 7:13am
      Paul said | August 10th 2018 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      Matt, can you apply the standards of “integrity” and loyalty” you reckon exist in the NRL to your current position, what ever that is? According to your comments, you can write what ever fiction you like, dress it up as though its fact, put your name on it and put it out there, regardless what damage it might do to other people because “it’s just business. And everyone’s looking after oneself. As everyone does”. Because as a journalist, you clearly don’t need integrity.

      Ditto with “loyalty”. I assume your employed by someone to write articles, but you decide “nah, I’m going to dump my employer by breaking my contract, go work for someone else, leave my previous employer in the lurch and screw the consequences”.

      I just wonder two long you’d last in your profession if you did this even once and the Rugby League world is way smaller than the journalism world? You can mock or scorn these values but they still exist. Here’s hoping Ivan Cleary has both of these in spades and makes the right decision.

      • Columnist

        August 10th 2018 @ 8:14am
        Matt Cleary said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:14am | ! Report

        Don’t quite take your point, Paul. Journos can’t write Fiction, they’d be out of a job. You can write Opinion though, and it’s never wrong.

        FWIW I’m a freelance, sole trader. Like a sub-contractor though I sign no contract and have no employer as such, just a series of Publishers I knock out stuff for. Bit like footy players, indeed we share a union (with Actors), though they sign contracts that don’t appear worth much if both parties agree they want out of em. Which was my point.

        I’m not quite across yours.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2018 @ 8:27am
          The Barry said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

          Any contract, anywhere in the world works like that if both parties want out…and that’s not breaking a contract.

          I’m not sure why this is reported as a rugby league issue.

          • Columnist

            August 10th 2018 @ 8:41am
            Matt Cleary said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:41am | ! Report

            True. Yet Griffin didn’t want it broken, presumably. Gus has exercised the option to break it, punt him and pay him out. And then the Tigers coach as a replacement, that the Tigers believe lacks integrity, presumably at least until they gain satisfaction, which could only come in the form of cash from Panthers world of pokies, and/or a better coach than Ivan. As Marina said: it’s business. I think bandying about Loyalty and Integrity in matters of business… they’re not words generally connected with business.

            • August 10th 2018 @ 11:19am
              Mushi said | August 10th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

              If gus had an option to exercise then it was never broken.

            • Roar Guru

              August 10th 2018 @ 11:33am
              The Barry said | August 10th 2018 @ 11:33am | ! Report

              Again, that’s how contracts work…if one party wants out the other gets compensation.

              Loyalty and business don’t mix but integrity certainly has its place.

        • August 10th 2018 @ 10:08am
          Paul said | August 10th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          Matt, I took your story to imply the standards of integrity and loyalty are virtually non-existent in League and more to the point, that was okay. My point in return was, you have to maintain a high level of integrity, regardless of your job and if you don’t, why should anyone employ you, because you are showing you probably can’t be trusted?

          Loyalty is a sketchier value in the workplace today but again, if a contract is signed and you’ve made a commitment, surely there’s an obligation to see that commitment through – unless, as you point out. both sides want to terminate the contract.

          As it stands, the Tigers want Cleary to see out his contract which should be the end of the issue, but Gould and co want him to compromise these values, which in my world, is completely wrong.

          • August 10th 2018 @ 10:30am
            JoM said | August 10th 2018 @ 10:30am | ! Report

            The Tigers were talking about extending Cleary before all this happened

            • August 10th 2018 @ 1:47pm
              John said | August 10th 2018 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

              Imagine the payout Panthers would have to fork over if they did extend it, prior to this breaking out.

        • Roar Rookie

          August 10th 2018 @ 11:37am
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | August 10th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

          Come on Matt, Journos write bloody fiction and lie all the bloody time.
          I don’t take too much notice on what happens at other clubs but at my Rabbitohs, we read rubbish about my club in the media almost on a daily basis.
          Especially when you are not going so well.

          There are certain Journos who write nothing but rubbish but there are others who do try to do the right thing but sensationalism sells.

          What is the old Journos saying?
          “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”

          Josh Massoud, Paul Kent, Rothfield and the Lurker whoever the fark he is, is the worst of the lot.
          Never ever believe anything they write, their correct strike rate is about 20%

          This season I have read Papalii, SuA is a done deal at the Rabbitohs, yeah
          How did that go?

          The Coach has lost the dressing room, yeah right… NOT!
          The last few seasons, Cody Walker, GI, Reyno, Cook, they all wanted out, yeah right, they all extended their deals with still with a year to run.

          I always say to everyone, Contracts are binding but both parties have to agree.
          If one party want’s out then compensation should apply.

          If a club want’s to get rid of a player then they can either dig their heels in or accept a payout.
          If a Player want’s to leave the club they can insist he stays or allows him to go to another club and they can apply a hefty transfer fee.

          If Both Partys want out then that is not breaking a contract that is called dissolving a deal.

        • August 10th 2018 @ 6:02pm
          Jesse C said | August 10th 2018 @ 6:02pm | ! Report

          I have seen plenty of fiction being written on this story over the last few days. Whilst it shocks, it sadly does not surprise when hack journos invent ‘facts’ to suit their narrative. Journalism in this country these days is in a dire state. Pathetic stuff.

      • August 10th 2018 @ 11:40am
        Albo said | August 10th 2018 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        The problem with all this outrage about the lack of of “integrity” and “loyalty” is that these virtues will always apply differently to various parties in the debate. Has Gould shown no ” loyalty & integrity” to Griffin in sacking him, or has he shown complete “loyalty & integrity” to the Panthers Club in removing an impediment to them winning a title, the reason he was employed ? Has Ivan Cleary shown no “loyalty & integrity” to the Tigers in wanting to move back to Penrith short of completing his contract , or has he shown complete “loyalty & integrity” to his son, himself and his family, by wanting to complete the deal that he has always espoused as their goal ? I am with Matt on this one. For me the NRL is a business. A football Club is a business. Each player & coach operates his own business within the business. ” Loyalty & Integrity” is always in the eye of the beholder and has little to do with running a business, whether its a Club business or a player’s business. If you want “loyalty & integrity” above anything else in you sport , play for nothing down at the local park. Otherwise if you want professional sport like the NRL you must accept the principles of business or you will end up without your sport.

    • August 10th 2018 @ 7:34am
      kk said | August 10th 2018 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      Ripper MC.

      Saul Goodman would be in his element in Rugby League.

      Settlements out of court his speciality.

      Give Vince Gilligan a bell.

    • Roar Rookie

      August 10th 2018 @ 7:40am
      souvalis said | August 10th 2018 @ 7:40am | ! Report

      Dont know if being ‘on the bus’ was meant as a ‘Hotel California’ analogy wherein once on you can never leave…

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2018 @ 8:08am
        The Barry said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        Haha…you’re right but Ivan’s ‘getting on the bus’ was definitely a call for commitment to the cause.

        There’s a credibility issue when you’re getting off the bus at the first stop – he hasn’t coached a full season at the Tiges yet!

        I guess like a coach’s half time spray it’s a tactic you can’t pull out too often or it loses meaning.

        How will the ‘get on the bus’ call go in the future? Get in the stretch limo…😉

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2018 @ 9:22am
          Matt H said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

          The problem with getting on the bus is that the Panthers will enable him to get on the private jet and drink champagne from a supermodel’s navel. And all Wests have is a bus that won;t go into third and has an unidentifiable smell under back seats.

          • August 10th 2018 @ 10:11am
            Paul said | August 10th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

            no doubt they plied Griffin with champagne and private jets as well (not sure about the supermodel navel) – that worked out well for him.

            I hope Cleary takes that into account as well as the events of 2015.

    • Roar Guru

      August 10th 2018 @ 8:50am
      Nat said | August 10th 2018 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      The legal implications are something I’ve thought about for the Tigers. If Ivan wants out, fair enough, the Tigers cannot force him to coach there but surely they have legal avenues to stop him coaching the opposition. I don’t know how it would be written in but if there were no ‘extenuating factors’ allowing a clean break even with a payout, he is leaving the club to find a coach with enough credentials and ability equal to Cleary’s. I would make Ivan sit on the sidelines for 2 years and see his value drop then and both Panthers and Tigers can look for a new coach.

      • Roar Rookie

        August 10th 2018 @ 9:19am
        souvalis said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        What credentials ? All 3 clubs he’s coached have finished with less than 50% win loss…how many people were whining and whinging about loyalty when Ivan did exactly the same thing to the Warriors…that was a bus mentality,too,you’d think…

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2018 @ 9:36am
          Nat said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          I understand that and agree but who else do they have as an option B? That’s my point, it’s not a matter of losing Cleary but replacing him. This was a play by the Panthers purely to get Nathan to sign and using the coach is the pawn.

      • Roar Guru

        August 10th 2018 @ 9:23am
        Matt H said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        That’s what happened to Gordon Tallis, but at the end of the day the Tigers aren’t the richest club around and they have been paying ex coaches and ex player contracts all over the place in the last few years, so I’m guessing they would rather have the Panther’s coin than revenge on Cleary.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2018 @ 9:43am
          Nat said | August 10th 2018 @ 9:43am | ! Report

          I agree, it can be viewed as spiteful but if Cleary leaves, he leaves the Tigers looking for another coach. While I can’t imagine Cleary is on top coaching dollar, replacing him is the issue – who would want to go out there with all their dramas in recent years. If nothing else, Cleary has bought stability and faith back to the club which has been a turnstile for players and coaches in recent years. Personally, I wouldn’t let Penrith benefit at all if I was the Tigers.

      • Roar Pro

        August 10th 2018 @ 1:02pm
        Kurt S said | August 10th 2018 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

        It is common in business that when a settlement is negotiated for break of contract mutually or otherwise, business sale or the like, the leaving or selling party agree to not encroach on the other party’s ‘turf’ (see what I did there?) for a fixed term.

        Unless there is a get out clause, Cleary may be forced to the terms of his contract. Could an inducement to breach contract be laid against another party who tries to poach a contracted coach? It is possible. But who has the deepest pockets to fight it?

        If this is all true and Cleary wants out, Tigers and hold tough and get a bloke who turns up with no enthusiam for the term of the contract. or the Tigs can negotiate damages or transfer fee to let Cleary walk.

        As I mentioned in another post, it all depends on what is written in other player’s contracts re Cleary being coach.

        • Roar Guru

          August 10th 2018 @ 4:33pm
          Nat said | August 10th 2018 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

          Yeah, some type of an exclusion period is what I was referring too. Cleary breaking contract just because he has a better offer surely doesn’t fit within a predetermined extenuating circumstance of his contract. Further, Penrith may be willing to pay out his contract and then some extra but it still leaves a coaching role to fill.

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