NRL: Simon Mannering reveals nearly leaving Warriors for Panthers

Warriors legend Simon Mannering has revealed how close he came to leaving the Warriors in 2014, after some rough patches at the Auckland club.

After the highs of reaching the 2011 Grand Final under coach Ivan Cleary, the Warriors slumped to new lows, finishing 14th the following year under Brian McClennan and then 11th under Matt Elliott in 2013.

Mannering already had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he was captaining the team during this challenging period.

In his new book Warrior, the now 32-year-old admits the loss of Cleary was the start of a downfall at the club, his passion started to dwindle and a move across the Tasman was considered.

He felt re-uniting with Cleary at the Panthers was a good option when his contract expired at the end of the 2014 season. He did have an option for the 2015 season, but opted to decline and test himself on the open market for the first time in his career.

Simon Mannering's book.
Simon Mannering's book. Photo credit: Supplied

That was the only time the 300-game veteran considered leaving the Warriors.

"When I got back from the World Cup, I had a quick break and then it was back into Warriors pre-season," Mannering wrote.

"I started to get disillusioned with the Warriors at the start of 2014 and seriously considered leaving. I started to think, 'Man, I've had enough of this'.

"With Cleary, we had the odd rough patch, but I could see the direction, but after that era, we seemed to be going around in circles as a club and not making any ground. It was starting to get to me.

"For the first time in my career, I began to think about moving away. I began to accept it as a possibility. I was thinking, 'I'm starting to struggle here, maybe me leaving is what the club needs'."

Mannering said he was losing the "drive and passion" needed to be a captain and that was when he asked to be shopped around.  

"That's when for the very first time I asked my managers, 'oh, can you look elsewhere'. He did a bit of digging and there was a period I was pretty keen to go back to Ivan Cleary.

"I knew I could work well with him."

Simon Mannering with Ivan Cleary in 2011.
Simon Mannering with Ivan Cleary in 2011. Photo credit: Photosport

In 2014, the Panthers had former Warriors Isaac John, Jeremy Latimore, Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor and junior Warrior Matt Robinson, along with Kiwis Sika Manu, Sam McKendry Dean Whare and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on the books.

Cleary said the Panthers would have to make some changes to the squad, but a verbal agreement had been reached, if certain things swung in the Panthers' favour.

Mannering hoped playing with Cleary again would re-ignite his passion, but he would also feel bad for leaving the Warriors during a challenging period for the club.

"Part of me knew that working with Ivan again would be best for me, but at heart, I was still a Warrior.

"I didn't want to leave the club, especially in the state it was. I knew that if I went and had success somewhere else, I would have wanted that success to be at the Warriors." 

Eric Watson, who owned the NRL club at the time, was in New Zealand and met with Mannering to discuss his next move. That conversation helped Mannering decide he wanted to remain at the Warriors.

"Eric said that if I left, it wouldn't just be me leaving, it would affect all the other players at the club and how they felt there.

"And if I stayed, it would have the same effect, resonating, but in a positive way. It would bring the squad and the club together.

Former Warriors owner Eric Watosn with Stephen Kearney.
Former Warriors owner Eric Watosn with Stephen Kearney. Photo credit: Photosport

"I didn't have a lot to do with Eric during my time at the club, but he always supported me. I guess he knew what I needed to hear.

"What he said hit home with me - it was my gut feeling anyway and he just voiced it for me.

"He was adamant that we were going to fix things and I said, 'Well, yeah, I don't want to walk away'. I was just leaving people in the lurch and I didn't know what to do that.

"In the end, I decided, 'No, I can't leave. I'll stay’."

Mannering said there were times that he questioned his decision to stay, but maybe the Panthers firing Cleary in 2015 was a blessing in disguise.

"The club only wanted to give me a three-year deal, but I said, 'No, I want four years, more security’.

"I got the four-year deal, which took me through to the end of 2018. I made my decision to stay, but the struggle didn't end there and there were times when I wondered whether I'd made the right decision.

"But at the end of 2015, for some reason, Penrith decided to move on with Ivan so maybe I did."

Even though the Panthers missed out on the workhorse, part of Cleary was happy to see Mannering stay at the Warriors.

"I thought we might get him, but in the end, the Warriors worked out they just couldn't afford to lose someone like him," said Cleary in Warrior. "Looking back, I'm glad he was able to be a one-club man."

Ironically, Mannering's 301st and final NRL match was against the Panthers in the first round of the 2018 playoff, and since then, Cleary has been re-appointed as Panthers coach.