Ivan Cleary's message to Parramatta after 'disrespectful' act from Panthers

The Panthers coach has spoken about the drama before Thursday night's grand final rematch.

These images show Ivan Cleary and his Panthers players celebrating their 2022 grand final win over Parramatta.
Ivan Cleary's Panthers side copped a fair bit of criticism over their reaction to the 2022 grand final win against Parramatta. Pic: Getty

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has hosed down talk of lingering tensions between his side and Parramatta, ahead of Thursday night's NRL grand final rematch. The Eels host the Panthers at Commbank Stadium on Thursday night, in the first match between the two sides since Penrith's 28-12 grand final victory in 2022.

Cleary's back-to-back premiers were branded arrogant and "disrespectful" by some rugby league critics after their grand final triumph, with five-eighth Jarome Luai referring to Penrith as Parramatta's "daddies" on social media. James Fisher-Harris declared the Eels the "sons" of the Panthers during the team's boozy grand final reception at BlueBet Stadium, while also describing his side as the greatest in the Penrith club's proud history.

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Panthers fans could also be heard chanting "We hate Parra" at the grand final reception, with Eels forward Shaun Lane insisting Parramatta would have kept their celebrations in check if they had won the grand final. The contentious grand final wash-up has all added to the drama in the build up to Thursday night's game.

The Eels are still winless after their first three games of the new season and will be desperate to exact revenge on Penrith and kickstart their 2023 campaign. The Panthers are one win from two games and go into the contest fresh off a bye in round three.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the match, Penrith's coach insists the grand final drama is all in the past. Cleary said he was confident the focus from both sides would be on their footy and preparations going into the game, rather than any perceived bad blood between the teams.

"The context (of the post-grand final comments from Penrith's players) was a few too many drinks over the road (at BlueBet Stadium)," Cleary told reporters. "That was a little out of context so I'm sure it's washed over.

"We're not worrying about last year. It's all about this year."New team, new situations for both teams, really. Everyone's just trying to get their season going and we're no different."

Parramatta's match against Penrith will mark the second game in a row where they've come up against a team coming off the bye. The Eels loss a nail-biter in round three against a refreshed Manly side, while their clash with Penrith will be the second of three consecutive games against an opponent who had the bye the week before.

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League bosses admit that while Parramatta's draw is not ideal, the NRL has brushed off criticism around it by insisting that many complex factors - such as club requests, venue availability and Magic Round - have to be taken into context. With the introduction of the Dolphins into the NRL in 2023, it's the first time since 2006 that the league has had an odd amount of teams and weekly byes are commonplace.

The Panthers used their week off in round three to recharge the batteries by spending the bulk of the break down the coast at Kiama, where they enjoyed a mix of work and play. It gave Panthers halves Nathan Cleary and Luai time to nurse minor foot injuries, however, Penrith's coach says time will tell what sort of advantage there will be in having the bye so early in the season.

Seen here, Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary runs during the warm-up before his side's round one match against the Brisbane Broncos.
Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary runs during the warm-up before his side's round one match against the Brisbane Broncos. Pic: Getty (Mark Kolbe via Getty Images)

"It's like anything in the draw, you get what you're given and you've got to make the most of it," he said. "I guess we'll know more tomorrow.

"We got a chance to work on some things from the first few games that we felt we needed to improve. It was a good opportunity for that." Thursday night's game is a milestone one for Penrith's coach, with Cleary set to become only the 10th person in Australian rugby league history to coach 400 first-grade games. He is set to overtake Warren Ryan as the seventh-most capped coach by the end of the season.

with AAP

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