Panthers superstar Nathan Cleary says criticism of his teammates has been “unfair” and claims the two-time champions have become an easy target for people who want to drag them down.
The Panthers have been in the headlines all week following comments from some of their players in the wake of Sunday’s grand final win over Parramatta.
The usually quiet James Fisher-Harris said “Parra are our sons” while on stage as the club celebrated the premiership with their fans who then started a “we hate Parra” chant.
Watch every match of the Rugby League World Cup LIVE & Exclusive to Fox Sports, on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
There have also been other comments and social media posts that have earned the ire of some commentators who have labelled the players “arrogant”, but Cleary says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s an easy target when you’re at the top,” he said a few hours before he and the Kangaroos jetted off to England for the World Cup.
“It’s the world we live in where if you’re successful and doing well then there are always people who want to tear you down.
“Sometimes some things are said that probably wouldn’t be said during the season, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.
“I love all the boys that I play alongside and I don’t think any of them are arrogant. If we were arrogant, I don’t think we would have gone back-to-back.
“There’s no ego in what we do. It’s the outside world that might see it like that.
“I don’t really get frustrated. It’s unfair on some of our players the way they’re portrayed in the media. At the end of the day, it’s hard to control that.
“I think we all know who we are as people and what we’d do for each other. That’s the main thing. We care about what’s said in the inner sanctum.”
Hunt re-signs with Dragons for two years | 00:52
MORE NRL NEWS
BOMBSHELL: Manly eyeing sacked Broncos coach Seibold to replace Hasler
WHISPERS: Sloan set to request second release as Dragons face exodus
LET ME GO: Dragons young gun requests release to join Dogs after Hunt re-signs
‘ROUGHING UPS’: Mahoney’s tribute to Brad Arthur in emotional farewell
WHACK: ‘Wouldn’t be allowed in our change room’: NRL veteran slams Matterson
While several Penrith players have been criticised, none have received more condemnation than Jarome Luai.
The five-eighth has always felt comfortable in his own skin and hasn’t shied away from making big statements which he’s been able to back up on the field.
Cleary has known his halves partner for a long time and says outside perception doesn’t marry up with who Luai really is.
“I think people enjoy watching him because he is that character. He’s different to other people, and I think that’s what makes him so special,” Cleary said.
“If he was generic and straight up and down then I don’t think he’d be as good a player as he is. Sometimes he’ll say stuff that riles people up and riles opposition players, but that’s what we enjoy about rugby league. It’s different.
“I’ve known ‘Romie’ for a long time and he’s at the stage of his career where as much as he doesn’t want this backlash, he’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s allowed to be himself around our environment and the culture we have.”
As for the “Parra are our sons” comment, Cleary insists he’ll have no control over curfew at the World Cup if he sees Parramatta’s Reagan Campbell-Gillard out at night.
“It’s just a bit of banter. I think it adds to the rivalry,” he said.
“It’s Fish (Fisher-Harris) saying it, not someone like me who can get belted. It’s tongue in cheek. It’s pretty harmless.”