(Thanx to the QT – Jay Buchan and Greg Bowker) THE Ipswich public may not recognise a lot of the Penrith Panthers players in Ipswich for tonight’s match against the Jets but don’t worry.
Neither does coach Ivan Cleary.
The new man in the hot seat at the Panthers is using his team’s trip to Ipswich and trial game as just that.
“There is a bunch of guys playing I’ve never seen play before,” Cleary said.
“I’m a little bit in the dark like everyone else.”
It is no surprise then that he knows even less about what to expect from the Jets.
“I’ve got no idea,” Cleary said.
“I’m sure they’ve been training hard.
“They’ll be just as keen as our blokes to go out and have a run.
“It won’t be perfect but I’m sure the contact will be strong.
“Our players are just dying for a game.”
Which is no surprise, given they are auditioning for a new coach.
“There is nothing quite like performing when it counts and that’s playing,” Cleary said.
“If someone puts their hand up and plays well, I’m going to take notice.
“Some guys are definitely a chance (of playing first grade in round one of the NRL).
“Other guys can make a strong first impression.
“A lot of them are quite young but it’s a great opportunity.”
Equally, this match marks the start of a big opportunity for Cleary.
It is six years since he took over the New Zealand Warriors as a rookie first grade coach.
Cleary made the decision to hire him by Panthers boss Phil Gould as genius.
He subsequently took the Warriors on a winning run that only ended in grand final defeat to Manly.
“It is a little bit different,” Cleary admitted.
“When I started there I was probably looking to set up some foundations first, which is the same as at Penrith.
“I’ll look to give some young guys a start and bring them through.
“I hope I’m a bit better coach now.
“You can’t buy experience and I know a bit more about the way things work.”
Cleary has been to Ipswich previously while coaching the Warriors and was delighted to be coming back with the Panthers.
“It’s great to be able to take the team away to Ipswich,” he said.
“It’s a rugby league environment.
“The players get a fair bit out of it and it’s a perfect way to start the season.”
Cleary would not divulge what sort of playing style to expect from his players.
“We might get a bit of everything if we’re lucky,” he said.
“It’s our first game so I’m not expecting too much.
“It might depend on conditions.
“I encourage good decisions mostly, but the players haven’t played in four or five months.”