The Panthers vs Tigers clash was always going to be a big one, but the addition of some healthy family rivalry should see the sparks flying even further than expected. The teams are fairly well matched on paper, with Ivan Cleary’s side building up momentum to stay off the bottom and the Panthers desperately in need of a win to keep themselves in contention for finals footy.
Plenty of familiar faces
There are 5 ex-Panthers named on the Tigers squad, but all eyes will be on the the Watene-Zelezniak brothers and Cleary father and son as they clash for the first time. There will be a few firsts today from West Tiger’s coach Ivan Cleary – the first time he has returned back to Penrith after one of the NRL’s most controversial sackings at the end of 2015, and the first time he has sent a team out against his son, Nathan Cleary.
Cleary says he’s not bitter about being fired without warning by Phil Gould, and is looking on the bright side – leaving the club opened the way for his son to join, well before Ivan thought he’d be ready.
“Me leaving has probably been the best thing for Nathan,” Ivan says. “If that’s what we take out of this then I’m happy. It probably hasn’t been the worst thing for me either. It’s funny how things work out.”
The father, the son and the brothers
There hasn’t been a father vs son match-up like this since 28 years ago when Bob McCarthy’s Gold Coast Chargers took on the Bulldogs side that featured his son Darren. But the mood has been fairly light at home, where Nathan lives with his parents.
“We’ll have a bit of banter,” Nathan Cleary said. “…I don’t think it’ll have too much of an impact on our lives but it’ll be pretty funny.”
This match showcases not one, but two families going head-to-head. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will also be up for the first time against his older brother Malakai. They have played a few times together, but so far on the same team. That will change this afternoon, as Dallin will be facing off against Malakai, both in the number 5 jersey.
The brothers have played one game together for the Panthers, which ended up being Malakai’s only appearance for the side. They value being able to play together, as Dallin demonstrated by playing 4 years above his age group in New Zealand in order to be on the same team. However, this will be their first clash as rivals and the team lists have them facing off head-to-head.
“I’ve always looked up to him so it’s going to be weird playing against him,” Dallin said. “It’s going to be interesting because we haven’t played each other since the backyard. It’s going to be a fun night for the both of us and our family.
The bystanders watching
But spare a thought for the families caught in the middle. Nathan Cleary’s mother is reserving her judgement.
“She’s sitting on the fence at the moment. She doesn’t know who to support so I think she’ll be the equaliser throughout the week.”
Whereas Malakai and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s family have no plans to choose a favourite.
“I think my parents and my family are doing up a jumper that’s one-half Tigers and one-half Panthers. I think this is bigger for them than it is for Malakai and me.”
No matter who wins, this game at Pepper Stadium will definitely be one to watch.
Who do you think will be victorious in the clash between the Penrith Panthers and the Wests Tigers? Let us know in the comments below.
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