Cleary, Bennett make up for grand finale

The NRL coaching grand finale has turned into an all-out love affair with Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett declaring that they are over their war of words.

Three weeks after their verbal joust over kick blockers, Cleary and Bennett instead exchanged pleasantries during Friday’s pre-game press conference.

In a set up for a weigh-in style feud, Bennett claimed he was no longer concerned about the subject going to Sunday’s grand finale, sitting side by side with his Penrith counterpart.

“That’s in the past, I’m sure we’ve both moved on since then and we have our jobs and our teams,” said the South Sydney coach.

Cleary responded in kind, confirming that things were “good” after the couple exchanged a handshake as they got on stage.

Instead, Cleary paid tribute to the way Bennett had acted as a mentor to him in his early days as a Warriors coach.

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

“Wayne really helped me when I first started coaching,” said Cleary.

“He didn’t have to, but he did. He gave me some tips that I still use today, so I’m very grateful to him for that.”

The history of Bennett and Cleary is further intertwined. Cleary was linked with Brisbane’s coaching job at one point after Bennett first left the Broncos in late 2008.

Bennett would also have been the man to take the Penrith job in 2019 had Phil Gould had his way, before Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill approached Cleary.

It will be a more difficult task for Cleary to beat Bennett in a grand final.

Bennett has won seven of the nine major finals since playing with Don Furner in Canberra in 1987, and also won a Brisbane Rugby League title at Souths in his final year there in 1985.

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

But there is no doubt that Penrith is better prepared this year than last year.

Cleary confirmed on Friday that fullback Dylan Edwards was on track to overcome a foot injury and play normally after practice this week.

Edwards is now one of 13 Panthers to have a stellar finals experience, compared to just three last year.

Six of Penrith’s squad have since also made their State of Origin debut, joining Nathan Cleary in no fewer than six games for NSW or Queensland.

“Many other games (including the grand final) since then,” said Ivan Cleary.

“Playing in a grand final, if you haven’t already, is definitely an experience and obviously losing a final isn’t a great feeling.

“But a lot of our guys started playing Origin this year and some of our recent games were good to have in the memory bank for experience.

“All those games should help us this weekend.”

Meanwhile, South Sydney are also not worried about halfback Adam Reynolds’ groin, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to score goals.

Three members from their 2014 award-winning premiership remain, while Benji Marshall takes care of a fourth man who has previously played in a decider.


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