That pressure will be most keenly felt this week, from a set of fans who he united on his arrival at the club and perhaps united even more when he left. Some understood the unique lure of returning to Penrith to coach his son, others didn’t.
Asked late last year about how Tigers fans should feel about his exit, Cleary told the Herald: «The fans are the lifeblood of the game. We wouldn’t have a game without the fans – I was a fan once too – and I understand the emotions that come with it.
«There will be a variety of emotions and some fans that I’ve already spoken to while disappointed I’m leaving understand and am thankful for what I’ve done. I’m sure there will be other fans that don’t quite see it that way. I totally understand that and get that.
«Our fans are emotional. I’d suppose I’d just like to say anything I did with the club I did it authentically, I believed everything I said and I never for one minute thought I’d be leaving but it’s just kind of how it happened. I would say I think they’ve got a great club.
«Some people won’t see it this way, but I can look myself in the mirror and know that I’ve given the Tigers full disclosure through this whole journey. I’ve tried to consider everything to make sure this was done in the right way. That’s all I can do.»
On emotion, Cleary wasn’t keen to show much of it after Penrith were humbled by a resilient Storm in the central west on Saturday night.
He was asked, almost baited, for his thoughts on the week coming. He cared little for it and after being prodded one more time swiftly wrapped up the press conference and walked out.
Having carved his reputation as one of the calmest coaches in the game, Cleary’s patience has been tested within his first few months back at the foot of the mountains. He has had to navigate his way through the sex tapes scandal, born from a time when he wasn’t at the club.
In any case, Cleary will start the week with his club trumpeting a cause close to his heart. On Monday, the Panthers will promote organ donation through DonateLife and Transport Australia. Cleary donated a kidney to his brother Ash in 2017.
It’s a deeply personal part of a week he will try his best to shrug off as not being about himself. But try telling Tigers fans it won’t be personal.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.