Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is confident his players are finally over the video scandal that rocked the club at the start of the season after ending a six-match losing streak against Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday night.
The Panthers became the first away team to beat the Eels at their new home ground with a 16-10 win and afterwards Cleary detailed the pressure he believed the release of sex tapes on the eve of the season had placed upon his players.
Tyrone May has not played after being stood down while he defends police charges, and videos were also released featuring other players who are no longer with the club.
Cleary said the videos and uncertainty over how they had become public or the motive of those who posted them on social media had an impact on his young team that could not be measured.
“The fact is that we have a very young team and a lot of the external pressures and some other things that have happened, particularly at the start of the year when we had the video scandal, that was an enormous toll on our team,” Cleary said.
“I don’t even know how much but that obviously rattled them because we virtually went off a cliff at the start of the year.
“It was a pretty big thing and there was a lot of uncertainly around it - where it came from and where it was going. Probably a lot of players through the NRL were feeling like that but there was certainly a lot of scrutiny on our boys and you can’t measure it.
“All I know is that we had an amazing pre-season and everyone was looking great and basically one day before our biggest trial we struggled a bit. We lost a few close games at the start of the year and that really rocked our confidence and our teamwork has definitely suffered.”
After winning just two of their opening 10 matches this season, Cleary emphasised teamwork and leadership ahead of the clash against the Eels.
While they still committed too many errors and conceded too many penalties for his liking, he was pleased with the determination they showed to fight back from 8-0 down early in the game.
The Panthers hit the lead for the first time in the 61st minute when halfback Nathan Cleary scored and they hung on to secure their first win since the 9-8 golden point defeat of Wests Tigers in round 4.
“There’s been a lot of pressure and I guess noise around so I am just really happy for the boys,” Cleary said. “They have been plugging away in the background, not getting the results and losing a bit of confidence along the way.
“We just had to play one of those games where it was gritty and tough and hopefully get a result. That is exactly what the game was like.
“A lot of the boys tonight played their best games [of the season]. I think that was a good step tonight. I am very confident in the players we have, but we definitely have to develop these boys in terms of leadership and teamwork.
“The dynamic of our team has also changed since last year which means the leadership of our team has probably got a fair bit to go.
"We’ve got some guys doing the best job they can do in that sense but when you lose a captain like Peter Wallace and some other guys that actually had a big say in the dynamic of the team our teamwork has suffered.”