Penrith coach Ivan Cleary knows only too well that Parramatta’s unenviable path to the NRL Grand Final will not make her a sitting duck on Sunday.
The Panthers won the Premiership last year after following a similar path, losing in the first week of the final before bouncing back and lifting the title.
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Destroying Canberra with their Finals hopes poised, the Eels defeated North Queensland, testing conditions in Townsville to reach Sunday’s Grand Final.
Despite a 2-1 record against the Panthers this year, the Eels have a strong chance of denying Penrith back-to-back NRL premierships.
However, Cleary said at the big final press conference on Thursday Parramatta’s tough road would make her an even more challenging opponent.
“They had a lot of tough games at the end of the season,” Cleary said.
“The game they had last week shows quite clearly that they are battle-hardened in a way.
“We went through something similar last year when we lost the first final so you can definitely do it (win a Premier League).
“They showed that and there are different ways to get there and anyone who gets to a grand final deserves it, that’s for sure.”
Penrith, entering their third consecutive Grand Final, is aware the Eels have been a bogey team for them since early 2020.
Only the Eels and Melbourne have beaten them three times in that span, and Parramatta has already had two convincing wins against the Panthers this year’s regular season.
“We’ve played each other a lot over the past few years and there have been a lot of close games that could have gone either way,” Cleary said.
“I think it’s just a good match-up and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re both in the grand finals.”
Cleary will be weighing a late move to his side ahead of Sunday’s kick-off, with Mitch Kenny standing a good chance of starting at Hooker ahead of Api Koroisau.
Kenny has tended to take the sting out of the game in the early stages over the past few weeks.
This in turn has allowed Koroisau to work its magic.
“It’s something we never really had a plan for, it just happened,” he added.
Honestly week by week I still don’t know which way is the best.
“Api started in State of Origin this year and he started in the grand finals.
“It’s something we mix and match a bit, it’s what we think is best on the day.”
https://7news.com.au/sport/rugby-league/penrith-respect-for-battle-hardened-bogey-team-as-ivan-cleary-floats-late-grand-final-change-c-8394484 NRL Grand Finals news: Penrith respects ‘battle-hardened’ bogey team, Cleary hovers in late Grand Finals switch