Brisbane Broncos coach Kevin Walters has attempted to quell the drama surrounding the Panthers' block play tactic ahead of the NRL grand final. This week, the Panthers' tactics of blocking runners from getting to Nathan Cleary before a kick was put into question.
The tactic was used against the Storm in the Panthers' 38-4 win in the NRL preliminary final, which saw Isaah Yeo block runners twice in the first half to give Cleary more time to kick the ball. In the second instance, Yeo moves off his line to force the Storm chaser wide.
Plenty of talk has been around where Cleary sits alongside the greats if he is to secure a third straight premiership with the Panthers. But rugby league reporter Paul Crawley said Cleary doesn't need to be a protected species when he raised the tactic on Tuesday night on NRL 360.
However, Broncos coach Walters dismissed the controversy surrounding the Panthers and said most teams attempt the tactic. "I'm happy with it. I am not concerned by it," Walters said at the NRL grand final press conference in Sydney.
"Everybody tries to protect their kickers, it is a big part of the game now. We don't have a problem with what they're doing. Penrith do it well, that's probably why everyone's whingeing about it. They do it better than anybody else. So that's good. Good on them."
Panthers players were first accused of running block plays for Cleary during the 2020 State of Origin series, when then-Maroons coach Wayne Bennett raised the issue with the NRL after game two. The issue was raised again in the 2021 finals, when Ivan Cleary and Bennett, then in charge at South Sydney, engaged in a war of words.
And once again, Crawley brought up the tactic ahead of the NRL grand final. "Cleary is playing in career-best form, there’s conversations going on about is he as good as the greatest? As good as Joey? As good as Sterlo? But I tell you one thing he doesn’t need, he doesn’t need a leg up from the referees ignoring some of the tactics going on to give him protection,” Crawley said on NRL 360.
“You have a look at some of these incidents involving Isaah Yeo and Moses Leota. When you’re giving kick-block protection, you’re not allowed to move. They’re moving, they’re getting in the way. These are penalties that are just being ignored. Why are they being ignored?"
Isaah Yeo hits back over block play controversy
The Panthers have remained quiet over the controversy, but co-captain Isaah Yeo hit back at the media reports and also attempted to quell the talking point heading into his fourth straight grand final.
"If they were blowing penalties you'd probably say (it was outside the rules)," Yeo said. "It's an easy write up and the media is just trying to find something each year. That seems to be the one this year, it's the same as last year.
"It doesn't change our focus, we're just going out there on Sunday to play our best game." Penrith coach Ivan Cleary also questioned why the tactic comes up every year ahead of the grand final. "I don't know (why it comes up)," he said.
"Maybe everyone just reads their notes on the previous year and what they spoke about during that week." More importantly the Broncos, Walters confirmed the appearances of three key players after slight injury. concerns with week.
There were concerns on Tuesday with Reece Walsh, Adam Reynolds and Herbie Farnworth all receiving treatment at training. However, Walsh has confirmed the Broncos will be at full strength for the grand final.
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