After Ivan Cleary gave him his NRL debut back in 2014, Panthers backrower Isaah Yeo is thrilled to be linking up with the former Tigers coach for a second time.
In the opening round of the 2014 season, Cleary debuted the then 19-year-old from Dubbo, who was a relative unknown in rugby league circles at the time.
Fast-forward five years and Yeo is one of Penrith’s longest serving and most consistent players. He’s even earmarked to have a major leadership role in 2019.
The 24-year-old said while pre-season has changed under Cleary, the man himself certainly hasn’t.
“Ivan hasn’t changed at all really, he’s pretty cool, calm and collected and doesn’t give too much away. He is a calming influence for the boys, which is a good thing for this young group,” Yeo said.
“Both Hook (Anthony Griffin) and Ivan do pre-seasons differently. Hook is a lot more running and getting kilometres into the legs whereas we’re obviously doing that with Ivan but also a bit more ball work, conditioning and skills.”
After making the Finals for the third consecutive season, Penrith are touted as serious contenders for the title in 2019.
Yeo said the group aren’t feeling the pressure just yet but is aware they’ll have plenty of eyes on them to perform as soon as the first ball is kicked.
“There’s not much pressure right now but we’ve had high expectations on ourselves for the last three or four years,” he said.
“We’ve made the Finals the last three years but we would have liked to have finished better in those years because we have a talented side and the media says we have so much potential.”
Yeo believes the key to winning a premiership is for everyone to play to their abilities week in, week out.
“It’s everyone’s aim at the start of pre-season to win a premiership. We feel each year we’ve been building but last year there were some speedbumps, which weren’t ideal but we can’t use them as an excuse,” he said.
“I believe we had the ability and side to go further last season but we didn’t. It’s a matter of us reaching those goals and understanding how good we can be.”
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.