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External critics not fazing NRL's Panthers

·3-min read

When Penrith charged to last year's NRL grand final, the rise of Ivan Cleary's young team captured the imagination of most fans.

With a core of junior talents who had come through the Panthers' ranks together, most neutrals were cheering for Penrith against perennial contenders Melbourne in the 2020 premiership decider.

Fast forward 12 months and Penrith are preparing for another grand final having avenged last year's loss with a shock preliminary final win over the Storm.

Whether the Panthers will have that same groundswell as the neutrals' favourite against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium is less clear cut, however.

Call it familiarity breeding contempt, but Penrith's players and tactics have come under a far more critical glare in 2021.

Souths coach Wayne Bennett used the build-up to the opening week of finals to suggest Penrith used illegal blocking tactics to protect Nathan Cleary.

More controversy followed a week later when Parramatta's Brad Arthur accused the Panthers of deliberately slowing down the game to halt the Eels' momentum late in their semi-final clash in Mackay.

The fallout from that match resulted in a $25,000 fine for Penrith and trainer Pete Green being suspended for the remainder of the season - a punishment coach Cleary would label "completely unfair".

Earlier this season, players Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton were labelled arrogant for their celebrations during a win over Canberra.

If the critics are hoping to rattle Penrith's premiership push they're barking up the wrong tree in the view of five-eighth Luai.

"We're a young, energetic group and to be honest if it's outside of our four walls we really don't care," he told AAP.

"We just want to play our brand of footy, have fun out there and enjoy ourselves because we know how much of a blessing it is to be out there with each other.

"We're so grateful to put this black jersey on every week and go out there and do our thing.

"Our brand of footy is just enjoying each other's company, playing hard and competing on every play. We don't really care (what others think)."

Luai's on-field outbursts even drew criticism during this year's State of Origin series, with a picture of him standing over Queensland's Felise Kaufusi and roaring during NSW's 50-6 Origin I win in Townsville quickly making him a figure of hate north of the Tweed.

The 24-year-old again wasn't too fussed if some people pictured him as arrogant, arguing the on-field passion he shows is a key part of how he plays the game.

"It's definitely something that I don't look for, being everyone's guy to hate or anything like that," Luai said.

"I'm just competing. That's something that I want in my game.

"That's something I know that when I'm at my best, I'm in the game and I'm looking for contact and (being) aggressive and that sort of thing.

"Off the field, I don't mind a bit of a laugh and that so yeah, sort of two different guys, I guess."

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