Manly's Brown prepares to face old ball boy Cleary
Manly utility, former Warrior and Panther Lewis Brown, will this Sunday take the unusual step of facing off against his former ball boy at NRL level.
Brown was at the Warriors under coach Ivan Cleary when Cleary's son Nathan was a humble ball boy at the Auckland club.
Brown then followed coach Cleary to Penrith where Nathan began to climb the junior ranks.
Now at Manly, Brown has watched from afar as his 2015 clubmate has set the 2016 NYC competition alight and last week make his top-grade debut for the Panthers – Manly's opponents this Sunday.
"I've had a lot to do with Nathan," Brown said from Manly's (no-longer-flooded) training base at Narrabeen on Thursday.
"When I was at the Warriors he was our ball boy. He's a good kid, he's got a big future ahead of him and he's got a good head on his shoulders.
"It's good to see him [debut], I'm pretty sure as a youngster he wanted to play first grade and I'm pretty sure he'll be looking forward to this weekend. He's a good kid mate, he's got a lot of talent and it's good to see that he can showcase it now on the big stage."
Asked if he could possibly be prepared to physically intimidate his one-time ball boy Brown simply grinned: "We'll see what happens, mate!"
Cleary did not look out of his depth last week against Melbourne despite the team going down 24-6, and he also didn't shirk his defensive workload getting through an impressive 38 tackles.
He has been named as chief playmaker for this Sunday's game, with skilful back-rower Bryce Cartwright partnering Cleary in the halves.
For Brown, he is looking forward to his first game against his most recent club as well as his new club's first Sunday afternoon home game this year.
"You don't want to play against too many old clubs!" Brown laughed.
"For me this is my second old club. I'm looking forward to it. They're really going well. They've had a tough season where they've lost a few games right on the bell and they'll be up for it. They've got some good young kids coming through who get a chance to showcase themselves this Sunday at Brooky."
Despite being coached by Trent Barrett who was an assistant at Penrith last year, Brown insisted it would be no advantage in terms of inside knowledge given the changes at Penrith since Barrett left with a new coach and overhauled playmaking roster.
"A lot happens in a year in rugby league, all their systems have changed there and stuff like that so when people say inside word and all that kind of jazz it's not really the case anymore, they're a different side now but you always like playing against quality opposition and I'm looking forward to this weekend," Brown said.
"Obviously [Barrett] will be looking forward to it. You can say you've got the inside word but you've still got to defend and attack against the group, we're not too focused on the opposition, we just want to get ourselves intact.
"The last couple of weeks we've probably let ourselves down and we just want to focus on ourselves to make sure we can put a good 80 minute performance in."
The other 2015 Panther in Manly's game-day 17 is hooker-turned halfback Api Koroisau, and while the 2014 premiership-winner has had less to do with his opposite number Cleary compared to Brown he is also looking forward to running out against his former club.
"I haven't seen too much of [Cleary's] game. He obviously debuted last week and apparently went very well so we'll be keeping a close eye on him that's for sure," Koroisau said.
"He was still in the 20s system at the time and I was only there for one year as well so I didn't have too much to do with him."
Koroisau was surprised that the man he was expected to face off against, senior Penrith playmaker Jamie Soward, was dropped for this encounter.
"He's been a leader for a long time but at the same time I think the coach needed to put his foot down and take a stand and show his players how hard they actually need to work to stay in the side," Koroisau added.
The Fijian international was cagey when asked what he and Barrett had in mind against their old club.
"We'll hopefully have a little something this weekend for the fans out there. We'll have a few surprises!" he said.