Panthers eye Cleary protection from Souths

·3-min read

Penrith have vowed to do all they can to protect Nathan Cleary from South Sydney's pack, with the Rabbitohs making clear their plan to get physical with the star No.7.

Cleary's kicking game looms as the most crucial aspect of Saturday night's NRL preliminary final, after the Panthers halfback destroyed Parramatta a fortnight ago.

The Rabbitohs went to the extent of rolling out a ball machine to hoist up bombs for Latrell Mitchell and Taane Milne after training on Tuesday.

Cleary's kicking was also the difference in Penrith's grand final win over Souths last year, controlling the match and earning him the Clive Churchill Medal.

"If you're not putting pressure on him then he can kick you to death," Souths forward Jai Arrow told AAP.

"His kicking game is such a strike weapon of theirs.

"If you're not getting field position against Penrith, then they're locking you in your corner and flying up and bashing you.

"Taking time away from him and trying to take his kicking game away from him will be a vital part."

Cameron Murray and Mark Nicholls also voiced the importance of being physical with Cleary on Tuesday, particularly if Souths are to open up the space required for Mitchell to thrive.

Arrow will make a point of running plenty of traffic at Cleary, but conceded the NSW star is not easy to fatigue.

Likewise, he admitted getting at the 24-year-old as he kicks is easier said than done.

The topic of kick blockers dominated last year's finals and led to a fiery exchange between coaches Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett, who claimed Panthers forwards illegally stood between a kicking Nathan Cleary and rushing defenders.

"That's a credit to them, they do it properly," Arrow said.

"They protect their kickers. We'll try and come up with tactics to exploit that.

"It's more for the NRL to look at whether they are (bending) the rules. But I don't think so."

Penrith, meanwhile, know what is coming, and are desperate to play off the front foot and give themselves the chance to limit Souths' pressure.

"It's a matter of getting players to a quick play-the-ball or getting them in the right spots to give Nath the best opportunity to put his kick away," co-captain Isaah Yeo said.

"He understands that they're going to be coming for him.

"As a group we understand that we're going to need to be getting to the right spots for him."

Cleary's bodyguard at second row, Liam Martin, was adamant the halfback would not be fazed by any extra attention.

"It's obvious. Who wouldn't go after Nath?" he said.

"He's such a great player. No doubt he'll be on their hit-list.

"We're just going to have to do our job as best we can to protect him and give him the time and space to do his thing."