Masked Panther: Roosters enter Cleary race

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We all know how rampant the speculation is about Nathan Cleary potentially joining the Wests Tigers to be coached by his father Ivan, but there’s also been a few whispers around about the Roosters being keen on a Cleary package deal in the coming years. Cooper Cronk is off contract at the end of 2019 and will almost certainly retire, meaning the Roosters will be looking for a quality halfback. Nathan Cleary just happens to be off contract at the same time, while Ivan Cleary will be nearing the end of his tenure with the Tigers. There is no doubt Penrith remains confident of re-signing Nathan, but there’s certainly some nerves around the place and that will be the case until he puts pen to paper.

Heartbreaking news for big forward Sam McKendry this week with the 28-year-old ruled out for the rest of the season. It’s the third consecutive year that an ACL tear in his right knee has ruined McKendry’s season, and you would have to think his career is now in severe doubt. Panthers boss Phil Gould summed up the feelings of the club’s fan base when he said it was “unbelievably sad news” for the former Test front rower. “It’s a huge blow for our club as well. Sam really looked like he was getting back to his best,” Gould said.

McKendry’s injury wasn’t the only blow to Penrith’s forward stocks last weekend with Tim Browne suffering a ruptured bowel while playing in the ISP on Saturday afternoon. He was rushed from Panthers Stadium to hospital and underwent emergency surgery. The 30-year-old is expected to make a full recovery but it’ll be a long road back to complete health.

The Panthers should be praised for their quick and professional response to the claims by Greg Inglis that he was racially abused by a member of the crowd at Panthers Stadium last weekend. CEO Brian Fletcher was straight on the front foot, issuing a statement on Sunday morning indicating the strongest possible response. “I wish to make it clear our club does not tolerate this kind of behaviour in any form. We will work with the NRL to investigate the matter and any perpetrators will be swiftly dealt with,” Fletcher said. “Our club apologises unreservedly to Greg Inglis for the upset caused by the alleged incident.” Penrith officials spent Monday morning reviewing footage in an attempt to track down the member of the crowd responsible. The club is continuing its investigation but it’s believed they’ve narrowed down a likely suspect.

Still on the unsavoury issue from Saturday, reports in The Daily Telegraph suggesting Panthers utility Tyrone Peachey was also racially abused during the game are totally off the mark. There’s no truth to it whatsoever.

Panthers five-eighth James Maloney has revealed he hasn’t spoken to his former coach Shane Flanagan at the Sharks since the end of last year. Maloney quietly exited the Sharks in the off-season without so much as a farewell phone call from Flanagan.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is set to be out for up to six weeks with a broken jaw. Are the Panthers about to unearth a debutant in his place against the Bulldogs on Friday night? Watch this space!

Brothers Dallin and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak hope to launch their new watch range in June. ‘W Zelezniak’ is the brainchild of the footy loving brothers, with Dallin completing a business course last year and Malakai boasting some pretty sharp graphic design skills.

He’s got Phil Gould and Trent Merrin as presidents of his fan club, but Penrith officials know that despite his talent, Jack Hetherington is going to be a handful as he continues to rise through the rugby league ranks. Believed to be on the verge of a first grade debut this year, Hetherington found himself in trouble last weekend in the ISP. Not only was he sin-binned during the game, but he also landed on the charge sheet. He’ll miss two games for a high tackle after his poor judiciary record came into play.

Spotted: A handful of Panthers fans at the CMC Rocks festival in Queensland last weekend, cheering the Panthers on to victory over the Rabbitohs.

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