Panthers shrug off Souths' blocking claims

·2-min read

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary described stories about his side's alleged use of illegal blocking tactics in the build-up to another finals meeting with South Sydney as "Groundhog Day".

Cleary's side was put under the microscope last year when former Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett claimed the Panthers were deliberately obstructing Rabbitohs players from putting pressure on Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary.

Bennett claimed at the time the star playmaker was afforded more time to get his pinpoint kicks away with Souths players prevented from closing him down by Panthers teammates shielding their primary kicker.

The plotline has reared its head this week ahead of Saturday's preliminary final with Rabbitohs forward Jai Arrow telling AAP Penrith had mastered the art of protecting their kickers.

But coach Cleary shrugged off the criticism on Thursday, claiming his side was yet to be pulled up for any infringements this year.

"It sounds like Groundhog Day, it's exactly the same as what happened last year," Cleary said.

"I haven't read the story but I know that Ashley Klein is a very experienced referee, he'll referee the game as he sees fit.

"It's all part of the game. We haven't been penalised for it this year, so I guess we've been doing alright."

Penrith have a 7-1 record against the Rabbitohs since the start of 2020, their sole loss being a week-one finals defeat last season before they triumphed over the Bunnies in the grand final.

While Souths have had to knock off the Sydney Roosters and Cronulla to get to this preliminary final, Cleary's side is well rested.

His starters were given the week off for their final-round trip to face North Queensland in Townsville and haven't played in the last fortnight following their qualifying-final win over Parramatta.

"We sort of sealed our spot fairly early this year in terms of where we finished and what was ahead of us in the finals," Cleary said.

"We've been looking forward to this for a long time so we are pretty keen.

"It's been a much smoother planning process for everybody."

The only change this week is a result of a suspension for prolific winger Taylan May, whose spot is taken by Charlie Staines.

"We started the year with Charlie in the side and we obviously have a lot of faith in him," Cleary added.

"He played a lot of games for us last year.

"He's not been a fixture of the team this last year but certainly has been over the last few years.

"I've got absolute confidence he can come in and do a job, his confidence is up."