Cleary wants compensation as rivals raid Penrith kids

Jasper Bruce |

Promising Dolphins half Isaiya Katoa was signed from Penrith before making his NRL debut.
Promising Dolphins half Isaiya Katoa was signed from Penrith before making his NRL debut.

Ivan Cleary has renewed calls for Penrith to receive compensation from the NRL when rivals poach from their junior stocks as the Panthers prepare to face Stephen Crichton for the first time.

Canterbury captain Crichton is one of 11 players to have left the Panthers after tasting grand final glory in the past three seasons and that number is set to grow to 14 next year with Jarome Luai, James Fisher-Harris and Sunia Turuva exiting in 2025.

“In my heart I would love all those boys to still be playing here but we’d have about three teams then, so you can’t do it,” Cleary said.

Stephen Crichton will play against his former Penrith teammates for the first time on Friday. (James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS)

Rival clubs have targeted Penrith players for their premiership experience but the chance to grab bargains from their league-leading junior nursery has proven just as enticing.

The Dolphins famously signed Isaiya Katoa as one of their first recruits before the Panthers had the chance to play the then-18-year-old at first-grade level and he has since blossomed into an NRL calibre half.

Mason Teague, Luke Hanson, Keagan Russell-Smith and Delahia Wigmore are among Katoa’s 2022 SG Ball grand final-winning teammates to be playing elsewhere in 2024.

Mason Teague (c) enjoyed SG Ball title success at Penrith. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

Cleary’s teenaged son Jett became the latest junior Panther poached when he signed with the Warriors from 2025 last month.

Ahead of the Panthers’ first clash with three-time premiership winner Crichton on Friday evening, Cleary had the revolving door of players on his mind.

The coach did not expect to be compensated for losing NRL talent, but echoed Penrith’s long-held frustrations about rivals raiding their nursery.

“I think we should get dispensation, probably more in a development sense,” he said.

Privately, Penrith management would be in favour of a model that financially rewarded NRL clubs for investing in regional areas, as the Panthers have done so effectively in western NSW.

Under the system, teams would receive varying grants to match the level of development they were undertaking regionally.

Cleary himself did not suggest a method of compensation when quizzed this week, but did not believe it would need to come in the salary cap.

“We develop a lot of players here that end up elsewhere, so I feel like we should get looked after more by the NRL in that space, apart from the salary cap and how it all works, it’s hard to argue with,” he said.

“But I do think we should be compensated in some way for the amount of players we’ve developed and the status they’ve become throughout the league.”

Ivan Cleary thinks the Panthers deserve reward for the amount of quality players they’ve developed. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

Turuva said Crichton had been taunting him via text message since last week in preparation for the round-10 clash.

“This guy’s already been playing mind games with me,” he said.

“He’s been killing it, skipper over there, so it’ll be a good competition.”

Fellow Panthers winger Brian To’o has been eagerly anticipating his first game against Crichton, who is both his son’s godfather and wife’s cousin.

“The first thing I thought of at the start of the year was playing the Doggies,” he said.

“I think I speak for the majority of the boys, wherever the boys go, we still support them through and through.”