Yeo backs Cleary’s mini re-build

Out injured: Isaah Yeo. Photo: Megan Dunn
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Hardworking Penrith Panthers backrower Isaah Yeo says he can understand why the club is going through a mini makeover under coach Ivan Cleary.

Since Cleary’s return to the foot of the Mountains late last year, the former Tigers and Warriors coach has moved on several players for various reasons including performance and pay packet.

Veteran lock Trent Merrin was the first to get cut loose, taking up a rich offer with Leeds in the English Super League last November.

In June, both Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak were granted an early release from their contracts to continue their careers at the Eels and Bulldogs respectively.

While just last month, decorated five-eighth James Maloney announced he would be leaving the Panthers a year early to take up a lucrative deal to end his career in France.

Unsurprisingly those four big names may just be the start with Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Jack Hetherington and Dean Whare all in the mix to be moved on as well.

While Penrith fans are frustrated at the prospect of another rebuild, it has opened up numerous opportunities for a wave of new and exciting talent to make their mark.

This year alone Penrith have debuted eight players in first grade, with Matt Burton, Stephen Crichton and Spencer Leniu the latest to hit the big stage.

Matt Burton on debut for Penrith last weekend. Photo: Megan Dunn

Speaking with the Weekender, Yeo said Penrith’s poor start to the year was probably the catalyst for many players being told to look elsewhere.

“Ivan inherited this squad from Gus (Phil Gould) and Hook (Anthony Griffin), he’s blooding some youngsters and it’s probably fair enough,” the 24-year-old said.

“We weren’t playing so well and I think the players he’s brought in have really injected some life into the team and were a major part in us going seven-in-a-row recently.

“All credit to Ivan for having faith in them and giving them an opportunity.”

While supporters often get upset when their favourite player departs ahead of time, the stars of the game see it very differently.

Yeo said players understand the business of rugby league and that there are often no hard feelings when they move on to greener pastures.

“That’s football, it doesn’t last forever and a lot of players that have been moved on were getting into the latter parts of their careers and had opportunities to extend their careers elsewhere,” he said.

“Trent Merrin was fortunate enough to go to Leeds on good coin and he’s the captain over there at the moment. Jimmy Maloney also got a wonderful opportunity at the only club he wanted to play at over there, Catalans.

“Obviously you’d love to see everyone stay while you’re here but that’s just not how it happens in rugby league. I’m sure at some stage in the future it will happen to me and I’ll be moved on – I’d like to hope not – but that’s just the life of a footballer.”

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