Cleary's Panthers expecting 'hurt' Tigers to roar in grudge match
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James Tamou circled Penrith’s round-four clash with the Tigers in the calendar after he spoke to Wests players about the departure of Ivan Cleary.
The below-par performance the Tigers put together against the Bulldogs on Sunday will only add fuel to the fire when the two teams meet at Panthers Stadium on Friday night. It’s going to be on. I know Ivan is such a good coach because the Tigers players are… talking to some of them, they were hurt," Tamou said.
"That goes to show he was pretty close to some of them. They will take it personally and turn up. Tamou doesn’t blame the Tigers. He would feel the same if Cleary left Penrith in the same circumstances.
“When someone like that turns your back on you do feel a bit angry,” he said. “I would too, I would want to prove a point. It doesn’t help that they’re coming off a loss. That just fuels the fire but we just have to match it.”
That will be easier said than done for a Penrith side who have scored just five tries in an underwhelming 1-2 start to the season.
Not one Panthers back has scored a try through 240 minutes of football and the blame is being heaped - perhaps unfairly so - on halfback Nathan Cleary.
Halves can only do so much when their team makes 17 errors in one match and Tamou believes Cleary jnr is the best man to help flip Penrith’s worrying form to start the season. Him being young and taking on such a heavy burden … he’s working hard," he said.
"He’s doing a lot of off the ball stuff and we saw a lot of that in Origin time. The effort is definitely there but you can’t come off a game like that and point your fingers.
“For him to get valuable ball … that’s up to us, our forwards. We need to lay a platform.”
The 30-year-old prop also believes having Cleary snr at the club will help, not hinder, the halfback in his search for the form which made him a clear cut choice at halfback for NSW last year.
“He’s been raised very well by Ivan and it helps that Ivan is here, especially in tough times,” Tamou said. "You have someone to lean on, like your father.
“Ivan would know exactly what he is going through.”
Cleary’s partner in the halves, James Maloney, echoed Tamou’s defence of the under-fire halfback.
“I haven’t seen him change much. He is always level headed and just goes about what he does,” Maloney said.
He is still doing that. It’s just a thing - he has come on the scene and had such a big rise.
“The problem is the expectation on him now. It’s immense, when he is still a young kid coming through, developing.”
Like Cleary, Maloney was a key component of the Blues’ 2-1 win in last year’s Origin series.
He has heard the Luke Keary hype and while not wanting to think about representative football given it is still two months away, he hopes incumbency counts for something when Brad Fittler picks his first squad of the year.
“Origin is a long time away. I’d like to think if I am playing good footy I will be there,” he said.
"How far away is it? Eight weeks? I’ll worry about it in eight weeks then
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