Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has admitted this season’s record winning streak will count for little if the Panthers aren’t able to maintain the run until after grand final full-time siren sounds.
Having won 16 consecutive matches, Penrith will equal the longest winning streak in the NRL era by beating South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night to secure a place in next weekend’s grand final.
Should the Panthers triumph in the grand final, it would be the biggest winning streak to claim the premiership in the game’s 112-year history, which stands at 11, set by Souths in 1955 and Manly on the way to the 1972 title.
"I could never have anticipated this type of thing, it is just something that I guess started and it sounds corny but it literally has been one week after the next," Cleary said.
Match: Panthers v Rabbitohs
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: Accor Stadium, Sydney
"But the streak really counts for nothing tomorrow when it is a do-or-die game inside the top four and we all know what the reward is at the end of it."
Before taking charge of the Panthers last season, the most consecutive wins Cleary had overseen as a coach was five - with the Warriors in 2011 and during his first stint at Penrith in 2014.
The Panthers won seven matches in a row last year but they have been unbeaten in 2020 since their 16-10 loss to Parramatta in round five – Penrith’s only loss of the season.
The longest winning streak in premiership history is 19 matches, achieved by Eastern Suburbs in 1973-74, while the 2002 Bulldogs won 17 consecutive matches but had all their points deducted for cheating the salary cap.
The 29-28 qualifying final defeat of the Roosters two weeks ago equalled the 16-match winning streaks of South Sydney in 1908-09 and Easts in 1912-13.
"Man, it is a lot of fun, and I have seen the other side too often too, so we have been making sure that we are not taking it for granted and I think that is shown in the level of consistency," Cleary said.
"Certainly in this season - being inside a bubble - it has made life a lot rosier around these parts for sure.
"It is down to one game tomorrow night and that is all that counts but what those wins have obviously done for us is give us great confidence in the way we play and what we do to be successful. It will be the same tomorrow night."
After finishing ninth last season with nine wins, including seven back-to-back from round 11 to 18, Penrith have surprised most people outside the club but not Cleary.
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The talent at the Panthers, headed by his son Nathan, was why Cleary was prepared to quit Wests Tigers at the end of the 2018 season when offered the opportunity to coach Penrith again.
"We believed in our team and the capability of it well before anyone else believed in us," Cleary said.
"All that has happened in the last four months has just provided more evidence and more confidence in that belief."
Asked about the possibility of winning a grand final with his son, Cleary said: "Obviously that would be a dream come true. I am extremely proud of Nat.
NRL Classic: Panthers v Rabbitohs - Round 7, 2020
First and foremost as a person and the man that he is developing into. He has had a lot of setbacks and pressure, especially over the last 12 months.
"As a player he has blossomed this year. He is still only 22 and he is probably three, four or five years away from his best as well.
"He has certainly made my job as a coach a lot easier this year and probably made us all look good.
"He has had a great year but he is just one of many players who have been in great form throughout the year and will head into tomorrow’s game full of confidence."