Cameron Ciraldo’s rapid rise from player to the Penrith head coaching role will be on full show on Friday night when he plots to bring down four players he used to call teammates, including close friend Matt Moylan.
The 33-year-old former forward, who only retired from the NRL in 2013, played alongside Moylan, Luke Lewis and James Segeyaro at the Panthers, while also spending time with Paul Gallen at Cronulla.
It highlights just how young and how fresh the caretaker coach is, but also how in tune he is with the modern-day players.
It’s why he and Moylan share a special bond, with the Cronulla five-eighth confiding in the then assistant coach following the fracturing of his relationship with axed coach Anthony Griffin during their time together at the Panthers.
"Matt’s one of my good mates and we’ve been messaging a bit this week," Ciraldo said.
"I was still playing when he debuted and I still count him as a friend. I always hope he goes well, but not too well this week. You could tell at training, even before he debuted, there was something special there.
"It was just waiting for him to put his mind to it. It was more about him getting his lifestyle right than his playing ability. We all knew when he was in reserve grade that there was going to be a special player there. It was great to play with him and even better to see him kick on."
Ciraldo concedes it was difficult to watch the relationship between Moylan and Penrith erode over time ut has never doubted his ability as a footballer.
"It was tough because you just want to see your mates happy," he said.
"But also the club has a job to do as well. It ended the way it did but Matt’s in a really good position and at a really good club playing good footy. I’m happy for him and I’m happy for our club that James is here."
One of the issues between Griffin and Moylan was a reluctance to play the captain at five-eighth.
But Ciraldo insists Moylan has shown he is worthy of wearing the No.6 jersey.
"I think he’s proven last year and this year he’s a classy five-eighth," he said.
"He’s shown what he can do at fullback too and I’ve been impressed with his transition into the halves."
Ciraldo: Peachey is going
Ciraldo has been part of the club’s coaching staff for a number of years, coming up with game plans to nullify several of his former teammates.
"It’s a little bit weird but I’ve been involved the last few years against those guys so it’s taken away some of that weird feeling," he said.
"I get along really well with all of them. That’s the thing about footy and when you move around a few clubs – you make mates at a lot of clubs."
Gallen and Segeyaro have had potshots at Penrith in the build-up to Friday night’s do-or-die final at Allianz Stadium.
Segeyaro highlighted the lifestyle differences between the Sutherland Shire and the foot of the Blue Mountains, while Gallen criticised James Maloney’s output for the Sharks during his final year at the club.
"Nothing they really said has affected us," Ciraldo said.
"I didn’t think it was disrespectful or anything like that. They just answered their questions honestly -and that’s what you’d expect from them because they are good and honest blokes."
Sharks v Panthers - Semi-Final
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