WHAT has been Ivan Cleary’s biggest success at Penrith?
The Sunday Telegraph
It might be snaring discard Jamie Soward from the Dragons and turning him into a potential premiership winner.
Maybe it was launching Matt Moylan into the NRL.
Or it could be taking a side without a single State of Origin player to within one win of a grand final.
James Segeyaro has gone to a new level this year. Picture: Mark Evans Source: News Corp Australia
But according to Cleary himself, his biggest project, and quite possibly his best success, has been transforming James Segeyaro from a game changing interchange player into an 80-minute match winner.
Segeyaro has gone from a light-stepping attacking machine who only knew how to tackle low to a rugged 50-tackle ball and all defender.
He has made 720 tackles this year and has led the Panthers’ impossible charge with not only his hands and feet, but also his shoulders.
“It is fair to say he has been my biggest project,’’ Cleary said. “It has been a huge transition for both him and the club. He touches the ball more than anyone else and tackles more than anyone else.
“It was always the plan for him to become an 80-minute hooker, but when he came down from the Cowboys he was a second hooker with Aaron Payne and we had to develop him.
“He is unusual because he has the high-twitch fast muscle but also has a big engine. It is a unique combination and has been an important transition for the club and that is why we didn’t rush it and why it has taken time.’’
But time was taken away from Cleary when starting hooker and club captain Kevin Kingston was injured.
“We used to have Kevvie Kingston as our starting hooker and his defensive numbers were enormous,’’ Cleary said.
“I think everyone got used to that and planning for when he wasn’t there was always going to be difficult.
“Someone was going to have to come up with those tackles. I suppose Chicko has always had that in him, but he has certainly become a more well-rounded defender. He was just one dimensional before, but he can come up with all sorts of different tackles now.
“He used to really just tackle low. That was his favourite style. He is still a very good low tackler, but he is now more comfortable tackling any part of the body.
“Each tackle requires a different approach and he can perform all of them now.
“He can work it out and execute it and that is where he has vastly improved.
“He is in the middle there, and he isn’t real big, so it has been an important development in his game.’’
How Gould lured Soward to the Penrith Panthers
Transforming this prodigious talent has been a balancing act. Bulk him up too much for defence and you dull his attack. Keep him mean and lean and he becomes a target.
“We have spoken about it since he first got here,’’ Cleary said. “We had been working on it, but it was really when he got in the coalface and started working for the 80 minutes that he really got it.
“He knows how to pace himself, learned all the technique and has just gotten better and better. He is a very well rounded player.
“We weren’t quite sure at first how we were going to manage the 80 minutes. But we didn’t have to worry because he got thrown into it with the injury and handled it.
“I think we went on a five-game winning streak after that so it all lined-up.’’