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Panthers must be smarter: Cleary

Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent NRL.com Mon, Apr 21, 2014 - 11:00 PM

Panthers centre Jamal Idris was involved in everything in his first game against his former club. Copyright: Robb Cox

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary says his team has to be smarter at closing games out after almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the Titans at Sportingbet Stadium on Monday night.

The home side held a comfortable 14-6 lead with more than 30 minutes remaining but were camped inside their own half for the rest of the game as the visitors finished the stronger.

Gold Coast eventually cracked the Penrith defence in the 77th minute through an opportunistic try to Aidan Sezer, setting up a nervous finish to the game.

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"I guess it was a pretty dour win. [We] made it hard for ourselves at the end of the game. Just happy to get the win in the end," Cleary said.

"We could've played a bit smarter. We done enough to close the game out, certainly. So to give them a couple of opportunities at the end of the game, if you keep doing that to yourself, it's going to be a long year.

"But the boys defended well most of the game, actually. That's a good sign."

The match was marred by a controversial penalty against Sika Manu, who accused Gold Coast second-rower Greg Bird of "grabbing my nuts" to on-field referee Gavin Morris. The former Storm player was penalised for lashing out at Bird in the closing moments of the game, leading to Sezer's try.

Manu refused to speak about the incident post game, but co-captain Peter Wallace questioned why the video referee didn't have a look at the replay during the game.

"Obviously something happened in the tackle and he refused to have a look at the video, which normally happens. It was a bit of a turning point," Wallace said.

Centre Jamal Idris had arguably his best game of the season against his former club, running 165 metres and making a number of incisive runs on the left edge. Cleary said that after a late start to the pre-season, his strike weapon had been getting better every week.

"He's been getting better since his first game. He came here underdone and he's been playing catch up since then but he's now put six games together, so each week he should get better. He's certainly helping us," he said.

Cleary also paid tribute to his halves combination of Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward, who flourished under drier conditions.

"Last two weeks we've played basically it's been like a monsoon. I've never seen weather like it," Cleary said.

"You can't blame it all on the weather but it made us a bit negative in how we played. [We're] still a new team, certainly some new combinations, especially guys that touch the ball the most.

"That was something we've worked on a bit. We've still got a fair way to go, but it's a long season. But we're definitely going to have to improve there."

The win means Penrith reclaimed their spot in the top eight ahead of next week's clash against the Sharks, in which they will attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Panthers don't play another home game for more than a month – a Round 12 western derby clash against Parramatta.