Nathan Cleary has dismissed suggestions the Panthers could be lacking the hunger for another NRL premiership as the club aims for a historic three-peat. Cleary will lead the club into the NRL finals this year looking to become the first team since the Eels between 1981 and 1983 to win three-straight premiership titles.
Only seven teams have done it in the 115-year history of the game and Penrith are favourites to join the list. Their current reign at the top of the competition is impressive considering they have lost nine of the 17 players that were part of the loss to the Storm in the 2020 grand final, before winning two straight premierships.
Salary cap pressure was always going to force players to seek bigger contracts elsewhere. Players such as Viliame Kikau and Api Korosiau were fundamental to their success, but left at the end of 2022.
Despite the setbacks, Penrith still won this year's minor premiership with an even better defensive record. And Cleary does not believe the team will lack any hunger heading into this year's finals.
"Experience always helps, and the only way to get it is by actually playing," Cleary said ahead of the first round of finals. "Thinking back, it just felt like a ride at that time. It was a whirlwind.
"We were just enjoying it. We probably weren't looking into it too much. We were just trying to keep it rolling. But now it's something we've done before. People are a lot more excited rather than nervous. Just with what we've been able to do and what it takes."
Nathan Cleary looking at historic NRL premiership
Cleary added that the playing group isn't lacking motivation, but were looking at the opportunity of joining some of the great teams that have dominated the NRL for a number of years. "The opportunity itself is enough motivation," he said. "Something we talk about a lot is that it's a battle against yourself. Trying to get the best out of yourself. That is motivation.
"Trying to get the best out of the group we have, not taking it for granted. It doesn't last for long, footy. You've got to make the most of it, particularly when you have a good team and system."
Adam Reynolds was one NRL stars to point to Penrith's record to why they should be favourites heading into a toughly fought finals showdown. The Broncos could have wrapped up top position on the ladder in round 27, but opted to rest the majority of their team ahead of the finals. The Broncos lost to the Storm.
Ivan Cleary opted to play a close to full strength team and the victory secured the minor premiership. Despite the Broncos' strong form, Reynolds believes the Panthers still head into the finals as clear favourites due to their experience.
"It's pretty hard to say anyone but Penrith (are favourites)," Brisbane halfback Reynolds said. "The quality of the team that's there, and what they've done in the last couple of years, plays a big part into the structures that they believe so hard in. Their best and worst performances aren't too far apart. But otherwise if there's a smoky, it's probably Newcastle."
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