Legendary Panthers coach John Lang didn't know it at the time, but he may have had a hand in Ivan Cleary's return to the foot of the mountains.
Over a few beers in the weeks following Nathan Cleary's first grade debut, the now Panthers coach asked Lang what it was like coaching his son, Martin, who he won a premiership with at Penrith in 2003. Lang's response, blunt but honest: "I didn't find it ideal but I'd rather coach my son than coach against him."
"I personally think, in Ivan's situation, Nathan is going to be one of the main playmakers and it's not a good feeling trying to take your son down," the former Sharks, Panthers and Rabbitohs coach told Big League.
As much as Lang backs the Clearys to succeed, he warns there could be some rocky times along the way.
"Martin and I had a few tense times," the former coach says. "Especially in the heat of the match, I do remember a few heated words were shared, a long time ago now. Overall we didn't have that many issues but things aren't always great. Over a period of time, Nathan will have his ups and his downs – no one is playing at their full ability the whole time."
Lang expects the Cleary combination to work, mainly because Nathan has the same maturity and work ethic as Martin, with a desire to be successful and stay professional.
"I think they'll go well together – I don't see a problem at all," he says.
"You see everything Nathan does – he's an absolute elite professional. He's similar to Martin, who was always 100 per cent dedicated, which made my job a whole lot easier.
"I never had to question his desire to play or his training efforts or anything like that. I think it'll be the same for Ivan and Nathan."
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