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Larger-than-life Panthers centre Jamal Idris admits he didn't click instantly with cool-as-ice Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.

To describe Panthers centre Jamal Idris as a larger than life character would be like saying Peter Sterling is an astute commentator. 

Thanks Sherlock, but we'll take it from here. 

Idris is the sort of person you'd love to go on a road trip with. He's an adventurer. A dreamer. A free spirit. He's the kind of guy who could liven up the third round of bingo on a Thursday morning and have everyone over 80 standing on their seat by the end of it. 

Everyone but Ivan Cleary. 

"I joke around a lot. I joke around with the boys a lot. Everyone's pretty animated," Idris says. 

"But I'd say a joke and he'd just sit there and his face wouldn't change at all. I started making a joke where I started calling him Ivan Milat. 

"I go to him, 'Look. I'll start calling you Ivan when you start smiling'. So he broke a smile on the weekend, so I stopped calling him Ivan Milat."

In a not-so-funny kind of way, it's pretty funny. Like we said, Idris isn't so much larger than life as he is larger than this whole goddamn universe. 

But wait, it gets better. 

Asked whether he's heard the driest coach in the NRL speak any louder than the poor fella who just entered a confessional, Idris said: "Nah, I haven't heard him raise his voice yet. It's weird. I make a lot of people raise their voice."

So he's got no rev-up in him at all?  

"I don't know, to be honest with you. It's sort of scary. It's a little bit too creepy, where someone's overly calm. You know, when you're having an argument with someone and they're like real calm? 

"You never know what's going to happen. He might stab me. I'll start backing off."

Okay, that's called over-stepping the line, but we get the illustrative hint and can confirm the obvious. 

Ivan Cleary is one cool cat. In fact, he's probably the antithesis of the passionate, angry types that typically come to mind when you picture an NRL coach.

But wasn't Cleary the least bit emotive about having the World's Biggest Human at the foot of the mountains when new year struck twelve? 

"Yeah, I [remember being] on the phone with him. He was sort of just, I guess, real straight. And I was like, 'Oh alright, don't know how I'm going to take him'," Idris said. 

"And the first couple of months or so I still didn't know how to take him. The things he was saying... I didn't understand. It literally took me until probably Round 10 or 11 to actually understand what he was about."

And what did you learn? 

"He's definitely changed my game up a lot. I've played over 100 games on the right side. To be playing on the left side at centre, I didn't really know how to take it at first, but now he's starting to show me a few things about being on the left, just running different lines and different angles," he said. 

"It's definitely changed my game up a lot. I used to be on the right side and have the left fend and right offload. But in saying that, now I'm just running better lines on the left side. It's better for the team."

And that's probably the other thing about Ivan. 

Penrith were giving away a couple of current Origin representatives, a handful of international stars, a dual-code superstar, as well as half a decent football team on the sideline against the Roosters last Saturday night, and still the former Warriors coach had his team believing what others could not. 

And now the Panthers are just one win away from the grand final.

"Reporters and fans are the only ones that didn't really believe in us. We knew we could take them on. We knew we'd match up. We knew their strengths and weaknesses and whatnot. And we played the full 80 minutes. That's what finals football is all about," Idris continued. 

"To be honest with you, I couldn't even put a number on it, to know how many players are out. But everyone just keeps pushing through. It's kind of weird. You've got players like Dallin [Watene-Zelezniak] coming through who's playing out of his skin. Moyza's [Matt Moylan] really stepped up, he's playing really awesome as well. 

"I guess that just goes to show a lot of credit goes to Ivan as well. You can have a team full of stars, or you can have an all-star team. The better team's always going to come out on top."

Any by the end of the night, it was the kind of win that would have Cleary turning that frown upside down. Although Idris guessed it wasn't going to stay for long. 

"We've had some losses there as well where you'd think he would be more animated and blow up, but he didn't. He's very straight," he said. 

"He's always thinking as well. He'd go home, rack his brain overnight, and then come in the next day with a new game plan, tear everything down and start again." 

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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