NRL: Former coach Ivan Cleary revels in NZ Warriors' 2023 resurgence after Penrith Panthers victory

New Zealand is not alone getting behind NZ Warriors during their 2023 resurgence, with former coach Ivan Cleary among those across the Tasman rooting for his former side.  

Two-time NRL premiership winner Cleary, 52, is no stranger to the Auckland club after spending nine seasons there.  

First as a player and then as a coach, Cleary is the only person to have featured in both the Warriors' Grand Final appearances in 2002 and 2011. 


Ivan Cleary and Andrew Webster.
Ivan Cleary and Andrew Webster. Photo credit: Getty Images

What's more, in his role as Penrith Panthers head coach, Cleary was a decisive factor in the appointment of Andrew Webster to guide the Warriors, personally endorsing him to take the role at the start of 2023.  

On Saturday, Cleary and Webster were reunited again, the master prevailing over his former apprentice, when the Panthers claimed a 32-6 playoff victory at BlueBet Stadium

That result sends the Panthers into the NRL preliminary final, one win away from challenging for a third straight title - a feat not achieved since Parramatta Eels in 1981-83.  

Meanwhile, the Warriors will return to New Zealand, where they'll face either Canberra Raiders or Newcastle Knights at home to decide who faces Brisbane Broncos in the other preliminary.  

While Cleary's focus will understandably be on his Panthers, he can't hide his delight for what the Auckland side have already achieved this year.  

"I'm so happy, I loved my time at the Warriors," Cleary told Newshub. "I still feel connected to the club.  

"It was a big part of my children's lives over there, mine professionally as well. I'm just so happy with how the club's going.

"[They'll play] a home final next week, I'm sure everyone will get behind them. It should be an amazing experience.  

"I hope they win."  

Last year, the Warriors finished just four points off their first wooden spoon, winning six games all season, along with 18 defeats.  

This season, Webster's side finished the regular season with 16 wins and eight losses, and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

That success could be recognised at the NRL's Dally M Awards, with Webster a contender for Coach of the Year and halfback Shaun Johnson in line for the Player of the Year gong.


If they're to add a maiden NRL crown to that list as well, the Warriors will must likely go through the Panthers again, barring an upset in the preliminary final.  

For Cleary, facing off against them for the premiership would be a welcome challenge.

"It depends how well they're playing," he joked. "That'd be nice, wouldn't it?

"It would be a good problem to have. Let's hope we both get there."