At a press conference at New Zealand Rugby League this morning, Ivan Cleary was named as the Assistant Coach of the Kiwis for their Rugby League World Cup campaign. Cleary, who coaches the Penrith Pathers in the NRL, will work with Stephen Kearney as the Kiwis attempt to win back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history.
“I watched the Kiwis in the ANZAC test,” says Cleary “and thought ‘These guys can win the World Cup’. So I was very humbled when I was approached about a role with the team. I took a couple of days on the decision, but the challenge was too good to refuse.”
Cleary, a 42yo Australian, has had a long association with rugby league in New Zealand, being involved with the Vodafone Warriors in NRL grand finals as both a player and a coach. In four of his six years as coach of the Warriors they made the NRL finals series.
“Half my adult life was in New Zealand and we brought the kids up there,” says Cleary. “I enjoy the culture and have a history with a few of the Kiwi players.”
That cultural fit was a key element in Cleary’s appointment, especially with the tournament just 16 weeks away.
“Ivan understands our culture and is respected by the players,” says Kearney. “He is experienced as a coach and, importantly, he’s match-fit. Those he has worked with closely have a lot of confidence in him.”
Among those who know Cleary well is Tony Iro, who was his assistant at the Warriors. Iro was the interim Kiwis manager during April’s test match and it was confirmed today that he’ll continue to manage the team for the World Cup.
“Tony did an outstanding job in Canberra,” says the NZRL CEO Phil Holden. “Our debrief after that match looked at our overall management structure for the World Cup and Ivan’s appointment followed. We believe his transition into the team will be a smooth one and he will be superb support for Stephen, Tony and the Kiwis.”
The Rugby League World Cup, which is hosted by England and Wales, runs October 26-November 30.