Panthers raring to go after rebuild, says Cleary

MICHAEL CHAMMAS
Last updated 10:17 25/02/2013
Ivan Cleary
IVAN CLEARY: "Over the last four weeks we've shown signs of improvement and that's culminated in being able to beat the Storm."

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Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary says his side is better prepared for this season than last year, despite 18 new faces joining the club over the off-season.

The Panthers have attracted an entire new football side to the foot of the mountains, but have held off on signing high-profile players in a bid to raid the market for next season.

There isn't any expectation on the Panthers this year, but Cleary insists that isn't the case in-house. The former Warriors mentor admitted the mass turnover of players was the start of a rebuilding phase for the club, but refused to label this season a write-off.

''We're in a rebuilding phase, you can say, and that's long term,'' Cleary said. 

''Like everyone else, short-term goals are very important and we are very focused on improving a lot this year, which I'm really confident we will. I will say we are in a rebuilding phase, but that doesn't mean we don't think we can have a successful year.''

While Penrith have had the largest turnover of players for this season, statistics compiled by Fairfax Media show that almost every club over the past three seasons has shed players in mass.

Manly and Brisbane are the only teams in the competition to still have more than 50 per cent of players they used in the 2010 season.

Only nine Panthers remain from the 26 players they used three seasons ago when they finished second on the ladder. But they aren't the only club to undertake a player clean-out.

The Knights have shed the largest percentage of players since 2010, with just 21 per cent of the players used three seasons ago still at the club.

Parramatta (six from 27), Canterbury (eight from 33) and Cronulla (seven from 28) are the next three main culprits.

Despite losing Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon to rival clubs, Cleary insists his side is in a better position leading into opening round then they were in his first year at club last season.

''You always hope that you are playing better at the end of the year than the start,'' he said.

''I will say we're in a much better position to start this season than the start of last year.''

Miserable weather conditions made for a defensive game in Penrith's final trial match against Parramatta on Saturday. The Panthers managed to score just two tries - from an intercept and a kick - struggling for creativity with regular halfback Luke

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Walsh absent through injury. But Cleary believes his playmaker will take the field in round one against Canberra at Centrebet Stadium.

''We're pretty confident he will be right,'' Cleary said.

''He's got an upper thigh injury. If it was a competition game [on Saturday], we would've pushed for him to play. But we've got another week up our sleeve; it was precautionary just to leave him out. He should be OK.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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