Ivan Cleary lifts lid on reason Tigers-bound Sunia Turuva was sidelined for NRL clash

The Panthers coach revealed Turuva missed the Cowboys clash due to mental exhaustion.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary revealed Sunia Turuva was a late omission from Saturday evening's NRL game against the Cowboys because his contract negotiations had taken an emotional toll on him. Earlier this week, the Wests Tigers confirmed they had signed the 21-year-old on a three-year deal from next year, estimated to be worth $1.3 million.

The Fiji international - who has played 35 games for Penrith since making his first-grade debut in 2022 - will join teammate Jarome Luai at Concord next year. The winger informed Penrith's playing group on Thursday morning that he would be leaving the club at the end of the year.

Pictured Ivan Cleary right and Sunia Turuva left
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary says Sunia Turuva's contract negotiations had taken an emotional toll on the winger. Image: Getty

Turuva became the latest high-profile Panther to join the Tigers, after Api Koroisau's arrival last year and Luai will also join him at the club in 2025. While Brent Naden and Charlie Staines are also among other former Penrith players currently at the joint venture.

Turuva's late omission from the Panthers unit came as a surprise. Just hours before Penrith's 26-20 victory over the Cowboys in Townsville, the winger was cut and replaced by new recruit Paul Alamoti. Following the match Cleary admitted that his withdrawal was due to his current mental state following contract negotiations.

"Sunia didn’t play mainly because he was going through his contract decision and still negotiating," Cleary told reporters during the post-match press conference. "So it was something that has been sort of going on for a few weeks.

"I think people don’t quite understand how much that can take out of someone, especially a young man with such a big decision. Not just professionally wise but emotionally. That’s why we gave him the night off. He will be back next week."

Alamoti- who played 19 games for the Bulldogs last year- ran for 181 metres and scored a pivotal try in Turuva's place. "I thought he showed plenty," Cleary said of the new recruit's performance.

"There’s a few things that he can learn as well. There was a huge play made on the stroke of half-time, but he ran the ball strongly, came up with some other good plays as well. He’s a young man learning what we value and I think he’s gonna be a good player for us."


The Wests Tigers scalp of Turuva is seen as a major one as the regular wooden spoon contenders look to turn a new leaf under new coach Benji Marshall. And Turuva is another step in the right direction, with his signing a direct result of their good work in the transfer market in recent times.

A major persuading factor for the Fijian joining the Tigers is the fact he gets to play under the leadership of his first cousin Koroisau. The hooker being at the club as well as the acquisition of Luai helped convince Turuva that his future should be in orange and black.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 06: Jahream Bula of the Wests Tigers breaks a tackle during the round five NRL match between Dolphins and Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium, on April 06, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
The Tigers are understood to be eager to keep Jahream Bula at fullback, with Sunia Turuva being brought in to play at centre.

However, despite making it publicly known that he is looking to play in the No.1 jersey, the Tigers are unlikely to play him there in 2025. The Tigers are understood to be eager to keep Jahream Bula at fullback, with Turuva being brought in to play at centre.