Ivan Cleary's triumphant NRL premiership moment alongside son Nathan after Sunday's 14-12 grand final win over South Sydney is a far cry from the pair's rocky first season at Penrith.
Having snubbed Wests Tigers to work alongside his son at the Panthers, Cleary admits an underwhelming campaign in 2019 created some doubt about whether he'd made the right call.
“We went through some hard times two years ago when I felt a bit guilty and his form wasn't where it could have been,” Cleary revealed.
“But in the end I think that helped.
“When the siren went and I saw him out there, it's all about … He's still my boy.”
Nathan was only too aware of the heat his father had copped with his decision to coach the Panthers.
He said Sunday's triumph, 12 months after an agonising grand final defeat against Melbourne, showed how wrong those critics had been.
“A lot of people wrote us off,” the halfback said.
“I have been dreaming of this moment since I was a kid.
“I was grateful to play one NRL game but to win a GF – and to do it with dad and people I have grown up with? It's special.”
Adding extra gloss to the Clearys night, not only did Ivan get the premiership monkey off his back after three previous grand final defeats as a player or coach, but he then got the honour of presenting the Clive Churchill Medal to his son as player of the game.
“That was completely out of this world,” Ivan said.
“I couldn't even have written that story. I didn't know it was happening or I had to do it. Satts (Scott Sattler) said 'you're giving that to Nathan' … I don't know how to explain it.”
Cleary had an extra layer of concern heading into the grand final, knowing five players were going into the game carrying injuries including his son's dodgy shoulder and a broken foot to fullback Dylan Edwards.
“It was a calculated risk on a lot of boys. I woke up at 2am (Sunday) morning and couldn't get back to sleep, thinking three or four of them could have been gone by 10 minutes,” he said.
“They just refused not to play. Fish (James Fisher-Harris). Moses (Leota).
“He has had a broken foot for a month. Has not trained.
“Walked around on crutches every week and then goes out and plays. I don't understand how it happens, but it sums up the bond.
“It just created that culture that no one wanted to be the one who put their hand up and say I don't want to play. It was incredible.”Internet Explorer Channel Network