Cleary speaks to NRL on early set restarts

Panthers Coach Ivan Cleary has told the NRL he is concerned about play-the-ball speeds.
Panthers Coach Ivan Cleary has told the NRL he is concerned about play-the-ball speeds.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has gone to the NRL over fears the Panthers' attack is at risk of being stifled by rivals deliberately infringing in the ruck early in sets.

Penrith carried on their winning ways on Thursday night against Newcastle, becoming the first side in eight years to go 7-0.

But Cleary isn't all impressed.

He has voiced his fears to the NRL over teams deliberately slowing the play-the-ball, after Penrith received the third most set restarts per game.

Worrying Cleary in particular is that he believes the majority come early in sets, where minimal extra tackles are gained.

Under NRL rules, referees have the power to penalise and sin-bin players if they believe they have deliberately transgressed to give away the restarts.

But that has rarely happened, with warnings also barely issued.

"I've actually spoken to (referee's boss) Jared (Maxwell) about," Cleary said.

"We're first in a lot of stats like tackle breaks and run metres and shifts and metres made.

"Yet we're about ninth or 10th in play-the-ball less than four seconds.

"That doesn't add up to me. I've seen a few other games too. Ball-in-play is longer, which is what we want, but the play-the-balls are slower."

Cleary claimed Newcastle had used the tactic to extreme levels in Thursday night's 24-6 win for the Panthers, with eight set restarts given.

Three of those from ruck infringements came on the first tackle, as well as two more for offsides.

"Tonight was another level again," Cleary said afterwards.

"That's clearly a tactic and I think that's happening to us. The play-the-balls were so slow tonight.

"The ball in play was the most we've had in any game this year. Yet the game slowed down.

"That's that's frustrating, but that's the way teams are attacking us."

Australian Associated Press