Ivan Cleary returns to Akl to help fundraise for local league club

Zion Dayal Zion Dayal | 06-21 16:20

Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has used a bye-week in the NRL calendar to cross the ditch and help fundraise for an Auckland league club.

The former Warriors player and coach was a guest speaker at the Mt Albert Lions fundraising lunch this week and told 1News that "rugby league has given me and my family everything".

"I'm very honoured to come back, and I think its been 10 to 12 years since I've been here, probably since Nathan [Cleary] was playing here," he said.

The club shaped a young Nathan Cleary into the league star he is today, while Cleary coached and played at the Warriors.

"This is where he started his journey," Cleary said.

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"Driving out during the week, driving Nathan to training and watching him play. It's real heartland rugby league stuff here, great to see all these old faces here."

The corridors of Mt Smart will be getting yet another Cleary next year, with Cleary's youngest son Jett signing with the Auckland-based franchise from 2025.

Cleary said he thinks Jett will be in "good hands" with the Warriors.

"Jetty has fond memories of New Zealand, he was born here, so it will be good for him to get out of his brother's shadow and forge his own path."

He'll be under the guidance of coach Andrew Webster, and perhaps another Warriors icon, Sir Peter Leitch.

"I'll be keeping an eye on him. I've already told the mother if he gets into trouble, I'll sort him out," said Leitch.

Mt Albert Lions president Mark McLeay said Cleary taking the trip over and spending time with the club was "fantastic".

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"It says a lot about the man still willing to give back to grassroots here in New Zealand."

A number of other familiar faces attended the lunch, including John Hart and Sir Bryan Williams.

The centrepiece of the event was a silent auction, with items such as signed Penrith, Warriors, and New South Wales jerseys up for grabs.

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