Panthers appoint Cleary, Yeo co-captains

·3-min read

Last season taught Nathan Cleary some brutal life lessons but the halfback says it will make him a better leader after being named co-captain of Penrith.

The 23-year-old went from TikTok bad boy to 17 straight wins into NRL grand final and Origin heartbreak last year.

But during the pre-season, Cleary, along with 26-year-old Isaah Yeo, took their leadership of the young Panthers side to a new level.

Cleary's maturity had evolved enough that he and Yeo became the natural choices to lead the club into 2021.

"You've always got opportunities to turn things around and try and be positive and get better and improve in all aspects of life," Cleary said on Tuesday.

"I had a little slip up last year and I've just tried to take that as motivation to be a better person on and off the field and I'm very grateful to be in the position that I am not, not only to play for Penrith but to captain the team as well.

"I'm very lucky."

Both Yeo and Cleary were unaware coach Ivan Cleary had made the decision to make them co-captains until he announced it in a team meeting.

It was an emotional moment for both players and coach.

Yeo was handed his first grade debut by Ivan Cleary in 2014 while it also rates as special occasion for father and son.

"As soon as Dad announced it I got goosebumps and just had an overwhelming sense of how grateful and blessed I was to be able to captain this great club," the young halfback said.

"It's pretty special and kind of hard to put into words."

The pair were among the standouts for the Panthers in their run to last year's grand final and will replace last year's skipper James Tamou, who has joined Wests Tigers.

Yeo is off-contract at the end of this season but the club is confident of re-signing the NSW Origin forward within the next fortnight, shoring up his future as at the club.

"I'm very confident that will be done very soon and it was always going to be done," coach Ivan Cleary said.

"It's a big contract for him, he's 26 so he's worked really hard to get to this point so we just want to make sure it's good for him and good for us, and that takes a bit of time.

"He's definitely a huge part of our club going forward.

"He is Penrith."

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are trying to lure Matt Burton to the club a year early but Cleary and the Panthers refuse to budge on a release.

The Panthers are short at least one prop after releasing both Tamou and Zane Tetevano at the end of the season and Cleary hinted a deal could be done with Bulldogs for the right player.

"Matt is a really valuable part of our squad as a player and a person," he said.

"If you keep getting asked, and they keep asking us the question, I suppose there's always something potentially that could happen that might make a deal happen.

"But realistically there hasn't been."

Earlier on Tuesday it was reported the Bulldogs had knocked back a request for a player swap with former Queensland prop Dylan Napa, but Cleary dismissed it as just talk.