Rabbitohs clip reveals truth about Wayne Bennett, Ivan Cleary spat: NRL finals 2021


There is a reason that Wayne Bennett is the super coach he is and the legend has shown the world once again he is a master of sleight of hand.

Time and time again, Wayne Bennett shows why he is one of the greatest coaches rugby league has ever seen.

Not only is it the seven premierships he’s won — six with the Broncos and one with the Dragons — but wherever Bennett goes, success almost certainly follows, unless you are the Knights or Great Britain.

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The wily old fox was up his usual tricks before and after his Rabbitohs upset the Panthers on the weekend.

Last week, after reports South Sydney had complained to the NRL over “illegal” kick-chase blockers Penrith had used to protect Nathan Cleary in their Round 23 clash, Bennett said he heard from a “very, very reliable source” the Panthers practice the move at training.

It sparked a heated press conference where Panthers coach Ivan Cleary hit out at coaches being able to “deliberately manipulate referees and try to influence them”, before Bennett clapped back.

But Souths appeared to use the very tactic Bennett was complaining about on Saturday night, as Fox League commentator Warren Smith pointed out a moment in the 50th minute of the Rabbitohs’ qualifying final victory.

The Rabbitohs were leading 14-10 when it got to the fifth tackle, with interchange forward Jai Arrow moving up and out of the line before appearing to purposely get in the way of Mitch Kenny as the Panther tried to put pressure on the kicker.

While all the attention was on Penrith trying to protect Nathan Cleary, Arrow’s apparent block went unpunished.

But in the aftermath, that appears to matter very little as the attention turns to winners and losers from the coaches’ exchange.

Speaking about Ivan Cleary’s war of words with Bennett on Monday night, NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent clipped the Panthers mentor for buying into the drama.

“I actually thought Ivan came into that press conference after the game and he was naive.

“The press conference is not about how you actually feel. It is always about what public message you want to get out.

“He came in and spoke honestly about the frustration of the whole process. And then he made a classic mistake by allowing Bennett to come in second.

“It was a rookie error. But I reckon if Wayne Bennett had sat down and watched Ivan Cleary’s press conference and got it as a whole rather than the questions from the journalists who picked the little bits of it.”

James Hooper said: “Not only did they win the game but Bennett won the pre-game build-up and then he wiped the floor in the press conferences after the game..

“It was embarrassing for him (Cleary),” Hooper said. “He opened up. He just lost the game. His son hasn’t lost a game all season. He goes in and they are supposed to be 80 minutes from the grand final and instead they have got to go into sudden death football.

“And he wants to get caught in a fire that he has started himself in the media during the week.”

The blockers issue was in the spotlight over the weekend as the Roosters claimed a 25-24 win over the Gold Coast Titans after Sam Walker’s field goal was aided by players standing right next to the play the ball.

Replays showed Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley had formed what appeared to be a wall next to the ruck and although Titans hooker Mitch Rein managed to get past, he did need to weave slightly to evade the pair.

The NRL’s Laws and Interpretations states: “If two or more players form a wall (side-by-side) next to the play and don’t allow the opportunity for a defending player to move directly towards the player in possession, the referee will penalise for obstruction.”

The commentators called it out at the time, with Balmain Tigers great Steve Roach saying “I reckon they’re offside”.

Former NRL referee Tim Mander tweeted on Tuesday that the issue had been dealt with two decades ago.

“Under former refs coach Robert Finch, we eliminated ‘blockers’ 20 years ago,” Mander wrote. “We called them ‘sleepers’ … players that loitered around the PTB to block defenders. Why has it slipped back in?”

Originally published as NRL clip reveals truth about Wayne Bennett ‘distraction’

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