Panthers expect Tigers to make it personal
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Penrith expect Wests Tigers players to make it personal when they face Ivan Cleary for the first time since he controversially walked away from the NRL club.
Tigers fans still bitter at Cleary’s exit are expected to make their presence felt at Panthers Stadium in what shapes as an emotional contest.
It is understood a handful of Tigers players were upset with Cleary’s request to be released from the final two years of his deal to return to Penrith.
And Panthers prop James Tamou is anticipating some of their feelings will be let known in their encounter on Friday. I definitely think so; talking to some of them, he’s such a good coach and they seemed pretty hurt," Tamou said on Monday.
"And obviously coming off a loss to Canterbury, they’d be pretty fired up.
“From what I’ve seen, Ivan has such an impact on everyone and that’s why I think they were hurt. Of course, yeah they’d be fired up. I would be.”
Cleary lured a host of big names on long-term deals in his two years at the Tigers, including Ben Matulino, Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye.
Veterans Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah also came back to the club.
Tamou said it was important the Panthers match the Tigers’ emotion.
“They’ve got some big boys in there and some boys that are playing good footy. No doubt there’s skill in there with Robbie Farah too,” he said.
“We’ve definitely just got to match it. It’ll just be a good test coming off a game like Melbourne.”
Co-captain James Maloney played down the occasion, but insisted the team had its own point to prove to Cleary after being walloped 32-2 by Melbourne.
“A bit of outside noise won’t change our job. We’ve got a point to prove and some things to make amends for from the weekend so that’ll be our focus,” he said.
"The fans might be a bit angry, but I don’t care to be honest. I don’t know what you want me to say. That side of it doesn’t bother me one bit.
In a boost for the 1-3 Panthers, powerhouse second-rower Viliame Kikau is expected to make his season debut after injuring his knee in a trial. Co-captain Isaah Yeo is also likely to return after being rested for concussion.
“How good, the big Fijian. He’s a hard bloke to replace when he’s out, and he’s currently looking fit and firing,” Maloney said of Kikau’s inclusion.
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