Ivan Cleary unsure if Panthers can keep Taylan May

Scott Bailey and Jasper Bruce |

Penrith centre Taylan May bursts through a tackle against the Melbourne Storm in round one.
Penrith centre Taylan May bursts through a tackle against the Melbourne Storm in round one.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is unsure the club will be able to keep strike centre Taylan May, as rivals circle the young gun.

The Panthers are rounding out their preparations for Thursday night’s grand-final rematch against Brisbane, happy to embrace memories of last year’s decider.

But the future of May is playing out in the background of Penrith’s hunt for an elusive fourth straight premiership.

The 22-year-old is the highest-profile Panther off contract at the end of this year, and has impressed in two games in the centres after missing 2023 with injury.

Penrith are keen to keep the Samoa international, and have begun formal talks about a new deal.

But other clubs could potentially throw more money in his direction.

The Sydney Roosters are one, with May’s brother Terrell – who is off contract at the Tricolours – having spoken publicly about his desire to play alongside Taylan.

The pair could be a crucial package deal for the Roosters, with centres Joey Manu and Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii set to leave at year’s end, along with prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Asked on Wednesday if he believed the Panthers could keep May, Cleary was cautious.

“I don’t know (if he’ll stay),” Cleary said. “I don’t know (if I’m confident).

“We would love Taylan to stay. He knows that.”

Penrith were less cagey about their grand-final rematch against the Broncos.

They will be without prop James Fisher-Harris with a shoulder injury, but the blow isn’t as bad as first feared and he is now a week-by-week proposition.

While talk of last year’s decider has been banned in Brisbane by coach Kevin Walters, Cleary has never taken that approach at Penrith.

The Panthers are old pros at grand-final rematches, beating Melbourne in 2021 and South Sydney in 2022 before losing to Parramatta last year.

“Every game, every season is different,” Cleary said.

“We haven’t discussed (the rematch aspect).

“We refer to the grand final through our preview for the game, just because it’s the last we played them.”

While Brisbane have remained quiet on last year’s decider this week, Penrith adopted a different approach when they walked in the Broncos shoes in 2021.

At the time, Cleary and his players made no secret that the pain from their 2020 grand-final loss to Melbourne drove them against the Storm the following year.

Penrith vowed to learn from Melbourne and be more aggressive in 2021 – with Viliame Kikau’s last-ditch try-saver to beat the Storm in round three of that season one of the key moments in the early days of the Panthers’ dynasty.

“We wanted to not shy away from it,” winger Brian To’o told AAP this week, reflecting on that game.

“We watched the game, it was hard and painful. It laid the foundation for us and where we are now.

“Maybe (Brisbane not discussing the grand final) is their way of processing, flushing it. Whatever works for them.

“But I know they are definitely going to be motivated to do more this year.”