Panthers full of praise for Cleary

No matter which player you talk to at the Penrith Panthers there is always going to be praise for one man who has made life a lot easier in recent seasons at the foot of the mountains.

That man is their coach, Ivan Cleary.

Whether a player is young or old, experienced, a rookie or a young fella trying to make the best of his opportunities in the lower grades, a nod of approval and vote of confidence in Cleary is never far away.

Kiwi back-rower Lewis Brown has been coached by Cleary in every season of his NRL career apart from 2012, when Cleary left the Warriors to join Penrith. 

Reuniting with his mentor just 12 months later, Brown said his move across the ditch was a matter of loving Cleary's coaching style.

"Ivan is the reason why I came to Penrith," Brown told NRL.com.

"He's like a mentor to me who I believe with the way he coaches on and off the field brings the best out of myself as a football player and a person."

Brown's sentiments were echoed by former Sharks forward Tupou Sopoaga. Unwanted by Cronulla after the Sharks' season from hell last year, Sopoaga made his way to Penrith in a move he believes has paid off already because of the way Cleary goes about coaching the squad.

"Ivan's really good. He's a really positive guy. He lets you play what you see in front of you but at the same time expects us to play within our systems and that's how I like to play," Sopoaga told NRL.com. 

"He doesn't spoon-feed you and I guess he lets you make things out for yourself. He's really helped me out this year especially when it comes to defence."

Playmaker and veteran five-eighth Jamie Soward isn't any different to his teammates.

Having signed a contract with the Panthers midway through 2013, Soward was dumped by the Dragons soon after – leaving a sour taste in his mouth as he departed for London to play out the remainder of the season.

Upon starting his first pre-season at Penrith, Cleary was the man to help Soward see the fun in rugby league again and it paid off handsomely. The new coach even walked the Kokoda track with Soward in late 2013.

"I love him, I love Ivan," a blunt Soward told NRL.com.

"I did Kokoda with him when I first came back from London and he taught me a few things. Mentally it was pretty draining but just watching him and just seeing his body language when the going got really tough was inspiring.

"I didn't really talk to him that much but still it was just like he was one of your mates. He was never going to talk down to you. He's always going to tell you truth and help you out when he can.

"Once I signed and met him and then did Kokoda with him I knew I was in the right place."

After taking the Panthers to a top-four finish last season, and with the full support of his players, there's no reason why Cleary can't take Penrith a couple of steps further in 2015.