A heated live TV debate erupted over Panthers coach Ivan Cleary’s running battle with Wayne Bennett after Penrith’s shock final loss.
Paul Kent and James Hooper have clashed in a heated live TV debate over Panthers coach Ivan Cleary’s running battle with Wayne Bennett in the aftermath of Penrith’s shock final loss.
Cleary was critical of Bennett for trying to manipulate the referees in the media, but the master coach well and truly put him in his place.
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Kent said Cleary’s post-match comments had merit, even suggesting Bennett would agree with him. But Hooper maintained the Panthers coach embarrassed himself.
“Don’t worry about the chocolate soldiers, Ivan ended up being a chocolate teapot out of this exchange,” Hooper said on NRL 360.
“He wanted to jump in the ring with Clint Eastwood and he got his receipt. Not only did they win the game but Bennett won the pre-game build-up and then he wiped the floor in the press conferences after the game.”
Hooper was left in no doubt the controversy was of Cleary’s making and that Bennett only responded when the Panthers coach allegedly leaked the story to the media.
“Absolutely Ivan picked the phone up last Thursday and rang journalists,” Hooper said.
“He has got friends in the media and he decided that he wanted to plant the seed. I know who he called.
“He tried to plant the seed that Nathan was being unfairly and illegally targeted. South Sydney returned serve.
“What I find fascinating about this exchange is that Ivan is normally very mild mannered and his side has been so successful across the course of the last couple of years.
“He hasn’t had to wade into these types of mind games prior to big games previously. He has rolled the dice in this instance and he has been found out.
“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t leak it to the media in the first place and then blow up when it backfires.”
However Kent said Cleary was right to question the act of coaches trying to manipulate referees to suit their own side’s interests, but made an error of judgment in when to voice that opinion.
“I actually thought Ivan came into that press conference after the game and he was naive,” Kent said.
“The press conference is not about how you actually feel. It is always about what public message you want to get out.
“He came in and spoke honestly about the frustration of the whole process. And then he made a classic mistake by allowing Bennett to come in second.
“It was a rookie error. But I reckon if Wayne Bennett had sat down and watched Ivan Cleary’s press conference and got it as a whole rather than the questions from the journalists who picked the little bits of it.
“No fault of the journalists but they picked the bits that were the more salacious. If Wayne had seen the whole press conference and put it in context I think he would have been in 90 per cent agreement with Ivan rather than 10 or 20 per cent.
“The whole thing in context Ivan was close to the money.”
However, Hooper believes Cleary was caught in a web of his own making.
“I disagree. He went down a rabbit warren and got caught in a cul-de-sac,” Hooper said.
“It was embarrassing for him. He opened up. He just lost the game. His son hasn’t lost a game all season. He goes in and they are supposed to be 80 minutes from the grand final and instead they have got to go into sudden death football.
“And he wants to get caught in a fire that he has started himself in the media during the week.”
Phil Rothfield chimed in by suggesting that Cleary was rattled by the back and forth with Bennett and did his players no favours by getting embroiled in an unnecessary drama.
“You want to see the super coach who every spring turns up and wins footy games and is confident and cocky and laughing almost and then you’ve got the other guy who was rattled,” Rothfield said.
“It came across as a gripe from a losing coach to me.
“I think Ivan’s body language said it all. And I think that is a really bad reflection on his players when their coach who is their leader looked like he was struggling with his demeanour.”
Originally published as ‘Caught in a fire that he started’: Hoops’ heated clash with Kent over Bennett-Cleary feud