Coach Cleary can't understand May ban fuss

·3-min read

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has thrown his support behind winger Taylan May, adamant there was no malice in his pub assault and it's fair he's allowed to play in the NRL finals.

The NRL's decision to defer May's two-match ban until the start of next season remains a point of controversy ahead of Friday night's finals opener between the Panthers and Parramatta.

ARLC chairman Peter V'landys says it was a decision made for fans, arguing that the league's biggest games should not be robbed of the best players.

But others disagree.

May was found guilty of assault last week, with no conviction recorded, following an incident in a Sunshine Coast pub last year when he dragged a man to the ground after comments made to Penrith teammates.

Cleary said on Thursday he was "very pleased" May was able to play, claiming he didn't understand why people were upset.

"Some people will think that he shouldn't be suspended at all as well," Cleary said.

"I'm not going to make a call on that, other than to say that I support Taylan.

"This incident happened, he'd played one game in first grade. It was 12 months ago. He was sober. He was just trying to defuse an incident.

"Potentially he was strong-handed, but he certainly didn't mean to do anything other than just try and defuse the situation.

"He's been dealt with in court. That's where it lies there."

The decision has angered the likes of former NRL star Issac Luke, who pointed to inconsistency from the NRL after he missed the 2014 grand final while suspended for a dangerous tackle.

Asked whether the May decision should prompt the NRL to defer bans for on-field incidents during the finals as well, Cleary was non-committal.

"I don't know. It looks like there's some precedent happening," Cleary responded.

"The NRL have made it look like they're pretty clear on that (for off-field matters), so I guess we wait and see."

Cleary is confident there will be no rust from the minor premiers' playmakers with a spot in a preliminary final up for grabs.

Parramatta have beaten the defending premiers twice this season, however Cleary stressed finals were a different matter.

Jarome Luai is back at five-eighth after missing the Panthers' last loss to the Eels on July 29, while halfback Nathan Cleary returns for the first time since being sent off in that match.

Penrith's spine have played just one game together since early July, while Luai and Cleary have only one match between them in the past six weeks.

"They've had two full weeks training together alongside each other," Ivan Cleary said.

"We had this discussion a while back and neither (Nathan or Jarome) are worried about (rust).

"They've played a lot of footy over a long, long time ... I'm not worried about cohesion."