Ivan Cleary is copping criticism for his decision to start Tyrone May over Brent Naden in the NRL grand final, with Naden reportedly in tears after the game.
The Penrith coach struggled to explain his team’s horror start to their grand final defeat at the hands of Melbourne - but was adamant his selection gamble wasn’t a factor in it.
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Having risen to each occasion in their electric run to Sunday's NRL decider, the exuberant Panthers suffered stage fright on their way to slumping to a 26-0 hole after 47 minutes against Melbourne.
The minor premiers eventually rallied to dramatically get within one try at the death, however in the end they were made to pay for letting the Storm thunder out to an unassailable lead.
Two of Melbourne's opportunities came down the Panthers’ right edge, where Cleary promoted utility May to the centres at the expense of Naden.
May gave away a penalty try for the opening points in the first half, before Ryan Papenhuyzen sliced through a gap between May and Nathan Cleary for the first try of the second half.
Naden spent the majority of the regular season in the backline, but was shuffled out prior to last week's preliminary final triumph over South Sydney.
He was again benched against the Storm due to defensive issues.
By the time he was injected into the game in the second half, the Storm were ahead four tries to none.
“I thought he played really well. Really well,” Cleary said of Naden's second-half cameo.
“Those are the decisions you make, I was happy with how that went.
“I always thought he could add something at the back end of the game ... disappointing that it was 26-0 at that stage.”
— ABC Grandstand (@abcgrandstand) October 25, 2020
Ivan Cleary cops it over Brent Naden call
A shattered Naden was seen being consoled by his loved ones after the game, clearly devastated by the result.
“First half and no Naden cost (Penrith). Cleary effed up,” veteran sports journalist Ray Gatt tweeted after the game.
News Corp journalist Nick Campton added: “I’ve liked Penrith all week but I don’t like the Naden-May switch at all. If Naden was good enough all year why isn’t he now?”
While Wests Tigers great Robbie Farah said he was “completely shocked” by Cleary’s call.
“Tyrone May didn’t put a foot wrong but it’s a different kettle of fish this week coming up against such a powerful opposition centre in Justin Olam,” he said before the game.
“He’s going to be a handful and Naden’s a bigger body.”
First half and no Naden cost you mate. Cleary effed up
— Ray Gatt (@Gatty54) October 25, 2020
If Naden had started in the run on side the match result would have reversed, bad choice Coach Cleary.
— Kathy Walsh (@kathwmail) October 25, 2020
But he started the game so poor tonight and Cleary wouldn’t bench him. After 20 minutes Naden should have replaced him.
— Hann 🐯 (@princess_hann_) October 25, 2020
One of the biggest Coaching stuff ups I’ve seen in a Grand Final is Ivan ‘The Betrayer’ Cleary picking Tyrone May out of position in the centres over Brent Naden.
Naden changed the game for Penrith when he came on and gave Cleary an attacking option on the right edge.
— Jaco (@Jaco_1979) October 25, 2020
As a paying member, Ivan Cleary really messed it up by playing a makeshift center in a grand final, and wasting a bench spot with Naden on the bench. Great season by @PenrithPanthers no doubt, but very poor coaching by Ivan in the grand final. #PantherPride #NRLGF
— Trent (@keipert76) October 25, 2020
Cleary denied clams his side suffered stage fright under the bright lights of a grand final.
“I don't think we were overawed,” he said.
“You have seen right through the semi-finals series that teams haven't been perfect.
“In grand finals that happens a lot. I wouldn't have looked at us in the first half and said we were overawed.
“They took their opportunities and we didn't.”
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