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Buzz: Cleary becoming NRL’s new Brian Smith

Seal Media Group, Australia

It’s not a huge rap but the Panthers coach is now second to Smith on an all-time list of coaches for most premiership games without winning a grand final.Smith famously coached 601 games at Illawarra, St George, Parramatta, Newcastle and the Roosters over 25 seasons without winning a premiership. His trophy cabinet consisted of one wooden spoon.Cleary is now on 367 games over 15 seasons without a premiership ring.Watch every 2021 NRL Telstra Finals Series match before Grand Final. Live & Ad-Break Free on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free >No one in NRL history has won his first grand final after coaching 250 or more games.Up until Saturday night in Townsville, most thought this might be Cleary’s year.That he finally had the football team and the talent to go all away, and Melbourne Storm was the main danger.But then he ran into old super coach Wayne Bennett, who has won seven titles and is so hard to beat around this time of the year.The Panthers have dominated for two years with the most exciting roster in the competition.Together, Penrith and Melbourne had won 41 games in the past two seasons, far superior to the rest of the clubs. Yet Townsville was a no-contest in the battle of the coaching boxes.Cleary was outplayed in the media build-up and completely outcoached.His body language said it all at his post-match press conference, in his eyes and his voice.Bennett had rattled him to an extent that one observer on social media suggested: “Wayne’s living rent free in Ivan’s head.”No one uses the media better than Bennett.When it suits, he will leak like a sieve to help his agenda.No one gets anywhere near the old boy as a media performer.On this occasion, Cleary started a war of words he couldn’t win.His complaint that the referees needed to protect son Nathan from South Sydney was all the ammunition Bennett required to launch one of the great pre-game blow-ups.NED-4494-NRL-Panthers-Poster-bannerThe evidence of who won the duel was there on the scoreboard on Saturday night: Rabbitohs 16, the Panthers 10.We can only guess this is one of the reasons why the great Gus Gould didn’t want Cleary back at the Penrith Panthers when he sacked Anthony Griffin three years ago.Some coaches can build footy clubs that are capable of winning grand finals but not deliver premierships.It’s often said about Brad Arthur at Parramatta that he can get his team into a strong position for the business end of the season but not take the extra step to complete the job.Panthers legend – and current board member – Greg Alexander says it’s wrong to be blaming Cleary for what happened in the 16-10 loss to the Rabbitohs. I asked Alexander if he thought Cleary was rattled.“No, no absolutely not,” he said. “This is a bit of game play between two coaches. He’s not rattled at all. The loss to Souths made it a tough press conference. That’s all it was.”Alexander insisted the Panthers made the right decision to hire Cleary three years ago“I certainly don’t waiver at all from the decision we made,” Alexander said.“We’ve had two outstanding years of football.“We’re absolutely confident he will deliver a title, whether it’s this year or next.“The feeling in the club is as good as it’s ever been.”

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