Ivan Cleary's dig at Wayne Bennett as NRL controversy erupts

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Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett, pictured here in the NRL.
Ivan Cleary has taken a swipe at Wayne Bennett and the Dolphins. Image: Getty

Ivan Cleary has taken a thinly-veiled swipe at Wayne Bennett, accusing the Dolphins of treating the Panthers as their own recruiting backyard.

The Panthers re-signed teenage outside back Sunia Turuva and fellow local junior Lindsay Smith this week, fighting off interest from rival clubs including Bennett's Dolphins.

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The Dolphins reportedly showed the most interest in Turuva, as well as powerhouse rookie winger Taylan May who also re-signed last week.

The Queensland-based Dolphins will make their debut in the NRL in 2023, but have been struggling to attract marquee names to the new club.

Bennett's team have already irked the Panthers by signing young half Isaiya Katoa, while Robert Jennings is also set to head north next year.

The 17th franchise have also been linked to both Stephen Crichton and Brian To'o for 2024, with the NSW State of Origin pair signed coming off contract at the Panthers at the end of 2023.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Cleary took aim at Bennett and the Dolphins.

"One thing is for sure, we are going to keep bringing guys through our system, that's our mandate," Cleary said.

"It has been well documented we have our challenges in terms of trying to keep this team together.

Sunia Turuva, pictured here in action for the Panthers in a trial game against Cronulla.
Sunia Turuva in action for the Panthers in a trial game against Cronulla. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

"To be able to have those (young) guys stay on when they definitely had options to go elsewhere ... is so good.

"Everyone is looking at our club now, particularly with the Dolphins coming in. They're treating our club like their backyard.

"So it's going to be even harder."

While Cleary's comment was said with tongue-in-cheek, former Penrith CEO Brian Fletcher claimed in February that it was a "waste of time" developing young players and called for financial compensation when the Dolphins signed Katoa.

“It’s a waste of time developing them for us when other developing clubs can just sit there and pluck them out," Fletcher told the Daily Telegraph.

“It’s frustrating but that’s the rules at the moment. There has to be protection or compensation."

Ivan Cleary, pictured here during the Panthers' clash with Parramatta.
Ivan Cleary looks on during the Panthers' clash with Parramatta. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Panthers hopeful of having Origin players on deck

Meanwhile, Cleary said he was hopeful his six NSW Origin stars would back up to face Newcastle on Sunday, while preparing as if they wouldn't.

Penrith's 30-18 win over Canterbury last Friday came after the Panthers dropped two games through last year's Origin period, in easily their patchiest part of their premiership season.

"It was a bit of a milestone for our club last week," Cleary said.

"The same period last year was a bit of a failure, I must say.

"It was really pleasing to see how they prepared and performed last week.

"It definitely gives us a bit more confidence. I think it just shows a bit more growth in our team this year."

As well as Crichton and To'o, the Panthers also have co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo, as well as Liam Martin and Jerome Luai playing the State of Origin opener on Wednesday night.

with AAP

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