With just five days until the 2021 NRL Grand Final, the mind games have already begun between the two coaches.

Penrith’s young buck Ivan Cleary is heading into the Big Dance with an equally young team, including his own son as captain.

This firey Western Sydney energy of the homegrown heroes contrasts heavily with South Sydney’s more experienced line-up with veteran coaching icon Wayne Bennett at the helm

In his tenth grand final appearance, 71-year-old Wayne Bennett had already begun chipping at Ivan Cleary in the first week of the finals.

After the the qualifying final between Penrith and South Sydney in Townsville, Cleary perhaps bit off more than he could chew by by accusing the Rabbitohs of deliberately targeting his son, and urging the NRL match officials to come down hard on anyone who hits the halfback late or high.

Bennett immediately returned fire several minutes later, pointing to illegal block plays and suggesting that the Panthers practiced it at training to protect their number seven. He also went as far as alluding to a conspiracy of collusion between Ivan Cleary and ‘his mates’ at the referees association.

It’s this supreme ability to look ten steps ahead that proves Wayne Bennett is more than just a master of man management, but also skilled in instilling extreme self-doubt into the hearts of administrators or coaching staff that step to him.

With the Rabbitohs coach clearly winning the war of words in the first week of the finals, it is of no surprise that Wayne Bennett is now living rent-free inside Ivan’s head as their two teams prepare for this Sunday’s battle.

This psychological warfare was stepped up a notch last night, at the 2021 Dally M Awards.

After nervously scanning the room all evening, Ivan Cleary was under the impression that Wayne Bennett had not come along.

However, when the award for Five-Eighth of the year was awarded to Rabbitoh’s star Cody Walker instead of the favourite Panther’s star Jarome Luai – Ivan spotted a grinning a Wayne Bennett in the back corner of the venue – making direct eye contact with him.

Bennett then proceeding to give Ivan a wink, before disappearing once again into a shadow of darkness, not to be seen again that evening.

It is believed that Ivan Cleary is today running of half an hour sleep after a restless night of deeply emotional overthinking. Panthers insiders say he has barely uttered a word to the boys today as they begin the crucial pre match preparations.

At time of press, The Penrith coach was seen leaving their club’s training facilities in Brisbane early, and making tracks back to his hotel with a bottle of Jack Daniels.


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