Masked Panther: Tough times in Pantherland

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Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will front the club’s Board on May 29 in an attempt to explain the team’s awful start to the season. But it’s unlikely to be a major grilling, with the meeting set to focus on discussions about the plan moving forward – including potential tweaks to the squad as the June 30 deadline approaches. The Board is obviously unhappy with the way the Panthers have played this season but remains staunchly behind Cleary.

Nobody can deny that Pantherland is not a happy place at the moment. Ivan Cleary and his staff are desperately trying to get the bottom of it but I’m told the sex tape scandal in the pre-season is a catalyst for a lot of the issues. Not only did it disrupt the squad and test a number of friendships, but there’s been some uncomfortable issues with wives and girlfriends too. The whole thing has really unsettled the season and made away trips particularly difficult.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary. Photo: Melinda Jane

Watching the Panthers at the moment is enough to turn anybody to the drink so it was no surprise that Ivan Cleary, Peter Wallace and Cameron Ciraldo headed to a bar last Friday night in an attempt to start an immediate review of what went wrong against the Wests Tigers. When the trio arrived at a Brisbane watering hole, they found it to be full of journalists. Not surprisingly, Cleary, Wallace and Ciraldo didn’t stay long.

Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher was instrumental in convincing the NRL to allow suburban grounds to host matches in week one of the Finals. Fletcher was ruthless on the issue after the Panthers were forced to host the Warriors at the soulless ANZ Stadium in the Finals last year. Last week, the NRL announced that suburban grounds were back on the menu for the Finals with Panthers Stadium now an approved venue to host matches. “This is an extremely positive result for our Club, particularly our fans but also for the game,” Fletcher said.

Be prepared for another home game to be lost from Panthers Stadium next year with the club likely to be forced to host a Magic Round match at Suncorp Stadium. Clubs have been informed that Magic Round will definitely be back in 2020, and it’s likely that ‘away’ teams from last weekend will be forced to move home matches as part of the concept next year. It’ll mean there will be just 10 matches at Panthers Stadium, with one game already shifted to Bathurst.

With another injury to his shoulder and his teammates in Brisbane, Isaah Yeo headed back home to the country last weekend for some fresh air and recharging. Yeo was back in Penrith on Monday and is continuing to get treatment for his shoulder with the hope of being back on the field against the Roosters in Round 13.

Serious questions are being raised about Ivan Cleary’s decision to appoint James Tamou as the team’s sole captain. While plenty of eyebrows were raised when it was first announced a few weeks ago, a number of league experts including Blues coach Brad Fittler are publicly airing concerns over the decision. Tamou is an excellent player and leads by his actions on the field, but he’s hardly the talker and motivator that the Panthers need at the moment.

It’s unlikely that Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will be in a blue and gold jersey any time soon. Reports emerged last weekend suggesting Watene-Zelezniak’s management had been in discussions about a move to Parramatta before June 30. I’m told Penrith officials were filthy when they heard the rumour in the lead-up to last Friday’s clash against the Tigers at Suncorp Stadium. The Panthers have no intention of releasing the 23-year-old and there has been no formal approach by the Eels.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak at training. Photo: Megan Dunn

Some of Penrith’s most famous names are set to pull the jersey back on for this year’s Legends of League tournament, which now features the Panthers.

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