Canterbury skipper Michael Ennis says the transformation of Penrith should be a lesson to every club not involved in the NRL finals.
Canterbury skipper Michael Ennis has lavished praise on surprise packages Penrith and urged every team not involved in the NRL finals to take a leaf out of their book.
Ennis tipped the Panthers to be the dark horses in the finals after Cleary’s side finished fourth on the ladder with an unheralded roster.
He said the team deserved more credit for what they’ve achieved this year.
Penrith face reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters in Saturday’s qualifying final clash at Allianz Stadium in a difficult opening game of their finals campaign.
But Ennis, who will lead the Bulldogs out against Melbourne 24 hours later, said there is no reason why Ivan Cleary’s side cannot continue to surprise.
“Everybody is happy to talk the Roosters up and rightly so,” Ennis said.
“They are completing well, defending well and kicking well. They have all the bases covered. It will be a good side that beats them.
“But Penrith have been the dark horses all season and why not give them a shot.
“They have earned their top-four; they have the perfect balance of workers and talent.
“For any side that aren’t playing this weekend it’s a great base model of what you need to do if you want to rebuild a club. They’ve done a terrific job.”
Cleary and Phil Gould have been the architects of the revival of the Panthers since arriving at the club three years ago.
Former NSW and Sydney Roosters coach Gould was enticed back to the club he guided to a premiership in 1991 and appointed Cleary from the Warriors just before he took the NRL’s serial under-achievers to the 2011 grand final.
He allowed big-earners such as Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Lachlan Coote and Michael Jennings to leave, reducing the wages bill and forcing the club to rebuild.
They recruited smartly to bring in the likes of James Segeyaro from North Queensland, Dean Whare from Manly, Peter Wallace from Brisbane, Jamal Idris from the Gold Coast and Jamie Soward from St George Illawarra.
Those signings were augmented by by several outstanding local juniors including Matt Moylan, who has been one of the best fullbacks in the NRL this year, and flying winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Cleary said he is delighted with the look of his side but added the progress made in a year-and-a-half is a source of pride for the whole club.
“Eighteen months ago we were everyone’s favourites to finish last and we scratched our way up to 10th spot,” Cleary said.
“The obvious one this year was to try and get in the eight and we’ve done that and I am very proud of the whole club.
“I think it is a pretty big achievement being in the top four with Souths, Roosters and Manly.”