The Roar
The Roar


Breaking Bad: League contracts are signed in invisible ink

Could Ivan be heading back out west? (Photo: Matt King/Getty Images)
9th August, 2018

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.