“Shouldn’t even have played”: Ivan Cleary’s “calculated risk” is essential to the great final triumph
Ivan Cleary woke up in an anxious sweat in the early hours of the morning grand final, fearing he would not be able to field a team.
Saluting the bravery and determination of his players after Sunday’s heroic 14-12 victory in Sunday’s decisive game, the Premier-winning Panthers coach admitted there were four or five players in his squad who did not maybe shouldn’t have faced South Sydney.
It highlighted what was an emotional and heartwarming victory as Penrith overcame the disappointment of last year’s loss to Melbourne to claim this year’s title in what can only be described as one of the most grueling grand finals of recent years.
“I can’t rap boys enough,” Cleary said overwhelmed after the game. “The courage that these boys showed. We really couldn’t train in the last three weeks as a team (with) that many guys who weren’t training.
Luckily the games were so tough every week that it was enough practice, we obviously had enough in the bank to be able to come home again.
“I think it was purely on courage that these boys won this.”
Treating a fractured foot, rear Dylan Edwards spent the entire week in a moon boot and on crutches until kickoff. .
While James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota and Brian To’o were also under clouds of injuries before the start.
“I think there were at least five who probably shouldn’t even have played today,” added Cleary.
“There was a calculated risk on a lot of the boys, I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep because I thought three or four of them might be gone in 10 minutes.
“But it was calculated and they just refused not to play. Fish, Moses, Dylan Edwards… Dyl Edwards, my god. He’s had a broken foot for about a month and hasn’t worked out. walk on crutches every week, then go out and play.
“I don’t understand how that can happen, but that just sums up the connection. What we were able to do was we had a lot of injured guys throughout the season. Bizza, in particular, has played two Once with a syndemosis injury, Tyrone May actually did his MCL twice wrong, and he continued to play.
“They kind of created this culture where no one wanted to be the one who put their hand up and said ‘I can’t play.’ It’s hard for me to explain. (It’s) amazing.”
Penrith’s journey through the finals was not as smooth as last year, losing to the Rabbitohs in a final qualifying loss before narrowly beating Parramatta and then fighting to defeat Melbourne, favorite of the title, during a captivating preliminary final.
Unlike last year, when the Panthers went on a 17-game winning streak in the decisive game against Melbourne, Cleary felt the tougher home run has helped his team grow tougher.
And it showed in their performance, with South Sydney catching Penrith’s advances twice over the course of the 80 minutes, and Cleary’s men showing incredible determination and bravery on defense when the Rabbitohs took it down. continued to threaten to snatch the result late in the game.
“I was always confident tonight because it was going to be a tough game, because it’s a big final, and we’re good at that,” added the Panthers coach.
“Having said that, it could have gone either way, but I feel like we dominated the position on the pitch for most of the night.
“To Souths’ credit their defense was exceptional, you wouldn’t expect anything else.”
It was a victory of relief in many ways for Penrith, but for Cleary in particular.
Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett joked that Cleary kidnapped the gorilla rather than the monkey, winning the title on his third trip to the grand final as head coach.
Cleary admitted he couldn’t imagine the idea of leaving Suncorp Stadium empty-handed.
“I couldn’t bear to think of losing today. Personally, being a fan, player, assistant coach and coach, it’s probably 45 years since I’ve won a grand final , so I’m going to make this one last, “he said.
While this is a feat that carries immeasurable significance to the Cleary family, Nathan Cleary also won the Clive Churchill Medal after his instrumental display that led the Panthers to victory.
The Panthers co-captain was at a loss for words as he described what it was like to share such a close moment with his father.
“It’s special, it’s not about us, but it makes it so special. A lot of people have rejected us, and doing it is crazy,” said the Panthers star.
“You can’t even express words. It’s something that not only I dreamed of, but also for us as a team. We always talked about that moment. It didn’t even feel real. was such a euphoria, it’s honestly the best feeling, just priceless.
“Sometimes there are tough things with the sport we play, ups and downs, but it’s worth it. I’m so grateful to be in this group and wearing this Penrith jersey. It’s amazing. .
“I was so grateful to play an NRL game and now to win a grand final, it’s crazy doing it with dad and people that I grew up with. It’s special.”