Nathan Cleary has leapt to the defence of his Penrith Panthers teammates after criticism of their 'disrespectful' premiership celebrations.
The Panthers have been labelled 'arrogant' and 'classless' in the wake of their grand final triumph over the Parramatta Eels, with a number of post-match comments sparking the ire of fans and commentators.
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Jarome Luai referred to the Panthers as the Eels' 'daddies', while James Fisher-Harris called Parramatta their 'sons' and claimed the current Penrith side is the best of all time.
Api Koroisau also angered Wests Tigers fans by mocking his new club when he suggested they could replicate the Panthers' feats before bursting out laughing.
But despite the backlash, Cleary said the Panthers were a humble bunch who wouldn't have lifted two premierships and two minor premierships over the last three years if they were a big-headed side.
"I love all the boys I play alongside," Cleary said on Thursday before the Australian Test team's departure for the Rugby League World Cup in England.
"I don't think any of them are arrogant, if we were arrogant I don't think we'd have gone back to back.
"There's no ego in what we do. I think it's unfair on some of our players the way they are portrayed in the media.
"It's an easy target when you're at the top. If you're successful and doing well, there's always going to be people wanting to tear you down."
Cleary was particularly strong in his defence of Luai, who could also land himself in hot water for the use of the n-word in a social media post which the NRL integrity unit is examining.
"Romie's just a character and I think people enjoy watching him because he's that character, he is different to other people and that's what makes him so special," Cleary said.
"He's not generic and straight up and down and (if he was) I don't think he'd be as good a player as he is. He's a true competitor.
"Sometimes he's going to say stuff that's going to rile people up, that's what we enjoy about the game of rugby league, it's different."
Cleary has found an unlikely ally in fellow Kangaroos teammate and Parramatta forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who said the Panthers had earned the right to celebrate as they saw fit.
The Parramatta prop stuck up for the Panthers and said if he had won the grand final he would "be going stupid" as well.
"For the amount of time you train for, say for 10 to 11 months, to go a bit crazy for two or three days, I don't have an issue with it," he said.
"They're talking after having a bit of grog, if the shoe was on the other foot I'd be going stupid."
Paul Kent's scathing criticism of Panthers
NRL 360 panellist Paul Kent was particularly critical of the manner in which the Panthers celebrated their back-to-back premierships.
"I just think Penrith are really bad winners, they are bad winners," he said.
“There’s a smugness and they piss in their own party, Penrith. Because they should be celebrated, this is going to be one of the great teams and they should be celebrated and remembered that way but they’re just mugs the way they carry on after a game.
“Koroisau taking the mickey out of the Tigers who he’s about to join next year, where is the support and acceptance and acknowledgment of the previous Penrith teams.
“Fancy James Fisher-Harris coming out and saying we’re the best Penrith team ever. That’s the height of arrogance.
“Once the dust has settled and the result is in, weapons are down, show some humility and grace towards your opponents.”
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