‘Ivan won’t blow a kiss’: Panthers still unhappy with Leichhardt scenes

Penrith officials have taken fresh aim at Wests Tigers and their fans for the shocking reception they gave the Panthers and coach Ivan Cleary at Leichhardt Oval earlier this season.

Panthers chairman Dave O’Neill said it was a shame COVID-19 had forced the competition north because Sunday’s game, originally scheduled for Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium, would have been a sell-out and the perfect chance for their own fans to dish out some “payback”.

The Tigers triumphed 26-6 against a Penrith side missing seven of their stars, including Origin halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, in round 13.

But it was the constant heckling of the players on the sidelines and the mass ridicule of Cleary, a former Tigers coach, late in the game that proved the biggest talking point.

O’Neill declared to the Herald at the time the Tigers fans could “enjoy their five seconds of fame” and the Panthers “had bigger fish to fry”.

Penrith are now second on the ladder and one of the premiership favourites while the Tigers are out of the finals running for a 10th consecutive season and will be without their best player, Adam Doueihi, this weekend because of a knee injury.

Adam Doueihi taunts Stephen Crichton during their last clash at Leichhardt Oval.Credit:Getty Images

O’Neill said Penrith would win on Sunday and the only thing more certain is that Cleary will “not blow any kisses this” to the fans like he did after a Tigers game last year. To be fair to Cleary, he has regularly said he has done more than his share to promote the western Sydney battles.

“It would have been great to have this game back at BlueBet Stadium for our fans and for them to get a bit of payback for the way the Tigers supporters treated us at Leichhardt,” O’Neill told the Herald.

“The best rivalry used to be the Battle of the West with Penrith and Parramatta, but with the departure of Ivan from Wests back to the Panthers, it’s created a new rivalry.

“We’re only worried about ourselves. We’re not worried about the Tigers. Let them get on with their problems. We’ll worry about hitting the finals in good form.

Things got heated on and off the field at Leichhardt Oval in round 13.Credit:Getty

“It will be a good game. Wests always seem to get up for the Panthers. I suppose at the end of the day they’ve got nothing to lose because they’re out of the finals race, again, and they can play touch football if they want.

“I’m sure Ivan will have our boys more than ready. We’re still to welcome back ‘Fish’ [James Fisher Harris] and Brian To’o.

“When Penrith finally do win on Sunday, Ivan won’t blow a kiss this time.”

Cleary departed the Tigers at the end of 2018 to reunite with Penrith and his son Nathan, and some at the Panthers remain stunned Tigers fans continue to use it as an excuse for their ongoing struggles.

Apart from Cleary’s kiss, some of the recent clashes have included Tigers centre Joey Leilua flattening Dylan Edwards off the ball, Tigers utility Moses Mbye being fined for treading on the calf of Panthers outside back Stephen Crichton, then the deliberate patting of Crichton’s head after a Tigers try, which is what Crichton did to Canberra earlier in the year.

Doueihi is a big loss for the Tigers but was quick to appreciate the rivalry with Penrith after arriving at Concord.

The future Tigers captain was fortunate to play in a few Souths-Roosters derbies, but said what the Panthers-Tigers games lacked in history, they made up for with passion.

“Penrith are at the top at the moment and we’re trying to chase and get to their level,” Doueihi said.

“I didn’t have a personal relationship with Ivan or know what happened previously at the club. But there’s always plenty of feeling in these games.

“Souths and the Roosters have been around more than a century, the rivalry has always been there, and those games are special to play in. Both teams have also been near the top of the ladder in recent years.

“Penrith and the Tigers are more of a scrappy affair – the Tigers like to try and scrap their way to a win, and it’s fun.”

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