Bulldogs-bound Naden still on Cleary’s radar

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary insists Brent Naden’s Canterbury signing won’t impact his chances of an NRL recall at the Panthers this season.

Naden will depart the Panthers at season’s end after agreeing to a two-year deal with the Bulldogs.

The Wellington-born outside back hasn’t played NRL this season after copping a four-match ban from Penrith following a positive anti-doping test after last year’s grand final.

Cleary declared Naden must earn back his trust after testing positive to cocaine, which also attracted a backdated one-month suspension from the NRL.

The strike centre has played four reserve-grade matches in 2021, scoring two tries, though he has been unable to break into the Panthers side with Paul Momirovski, Stephen Crichton and more recently Matt Burton holding down the centre spots.

Brent Naden could still force his way back into Penrith’s NRL team this season despite signing with Canterbury. Picture: Brendon Thorne/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Cleary, though, is adamant that Naden signing with Canterbury will have no bearing on his potential playing time at the Panthers.

“No, it has no influence,” Cleary said simply.

Naden will be joined at the Bulldogs next season by fellow Panther Matt Burton, while ex-teammate Jack Hetherington is already at Belmore.

Cleary would love to keep all his players, but he knows it’s unrealistic in the salary cap era.

“Yeah, it is not easy,” he said.

“Ever since the season finished last year, we’ve been trying to keep players and it has just been ongoing.

“But that is the nature of our sport’s trading system. I guess it is 365 days a year, but it has been difficult.”

Cleary can also see the positive of Penrith players and staff, as shown through Cronulla’s pursuit of assistant Cameron Ciraldo, being courted by rivals.

“It is good that other clubs are looking at our players, even staff members,” he said.

“But to this point we’ve been able to manage our way through it.”

On the field, Cleary is expecting a difficult clash against a rejuvenated Manly side in Bathurst on Saturday.

The Panthers smashed the Sea Eagles 46-6 in round 4, but Des Hasler’s men are a significantly improved side following the return of star fullback Tom Trbojevic.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary is expecting a difficult clash against a rejuvenated Manly side in Bathurst on Saturday. Picture: Matt King/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Cleary is wary of the Trbojevic show, which also includes older brother Jake.

“He (Tom) is obviously a great player in his own right, but he has also got that great connection with his brother Jake, which almost adds two more players,” he said.

“It is one thing having good players, but it is about the connection, that is the main thing, and those guys have obviously got that.

“You throw in premiership-winning halves in Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, and you’ve got a pretty good mix there.

“But the best way we can limit Tom is by playing well ourselves.”

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