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A frustrated Ivan Cleary labelled Penrith's second-half capitulation to Melbourne as "awful" and "inept" before snapping at repeated questions around his first showdown with the Wests Tigers.

Cleary and the Panthers will weather a familiar storyline this week as they host his former flame on Friday night - the coach's move between the two clubs and the endless innuendo preceding it making for one of 2019's most anticipated clashes.

But Cleary's chief concern is the recurring handling errors that saw Penrith make 17 mistakes and complete at 56 per cent in the Storm shellacking, Saturday's 32-2 loss coming after Penrith dominated first-half possession.

A half-time score of 8-2 Storm's way ended up 32-2 - Craig Bellamy's men scoring five unanswered tries.

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards endured a particularly horror night with six errors in total, his second-half fumble for a Brodie Croft try the turning point in Cleary's eyes.

"The game changed around the 46th minute mark when they scored again," Cleary said.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Storm

"I thought our boys really failed to deal with that. From then on, we were awful.

"… that try that took them ahead 14-2, I don't think we coped with that. I think we completed four sets for the rest of the game or something.

"Just all parts of our game I thought were just inept… I'm concerned, definitely. Just way too many fundamental errors, which makes all life difficult."

Cleary sympathised with Edwards and was unequivocal about picking him again at fullback for the round four grudge match.

"You feel for anyone when they go through a night like tonight," Cleary said.

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"I've gotta say, he never shied away from the game. But it certainly wasn't his night.

"Tonight was just one of those nights, the harder he tried, sometimes the worse it gets. I was happy with the fact that he didn't shy away, he kept turning up."

But when talk inevitably turned to the looming clash with the Tigers, who could join Melbourne atop the ladder if they account for the struggling Bulldogs on Sunday, Cleary wasn't biting.

Quizzed on whether the week's build-up could prove a distraction for his young side, Cleary deadpanned: "No problem, especially after tonight."

When questions again returned to the Tigers after a few minutes Cleary brought his press conference to a close, offering "Good, I look forward to it" when it was pointed out that much more scrutiny will follow in the lead-up to Friday's game.

Penrith will at least have Viliame Kikau to call on next week with the big Fijian set to return from a pre-season knee injury.

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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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