Penrith urged not to go alone on Mitchell
Nathan Cleary has warned Penrith teammates not to be heroes and try to take Latrell Mitchell down on their own in a bid to qualify for a third straight grand final.
Mitchell stands as the man most likely to deny the Panthers back-to-back titles, entering Saturday’s preliminary final as the NRL and South Sydney’s form man.
The South Sydney superstar has set up 18 tries in the 12 weeks since his return from a hamstring injury, busting through 62 tacklers on his own.
“The thing about Latrell is he can pop up at any time and he’s a real x-factor,” Cleary told reporters.
“So it’s just being aware of that, just trying to contain him together.
“If you’re trying to (rush out of the line) and do it by yourself there’s not too many people that can go at him one-on-one and come off best.”
Cleary also said countering Mitchell was not as simple as loading numbers up against Souths’ left edge, where he’s usually most dangerous.
That side, comprising Cody Walker, Isaiah Tass and Alex Johnston, broke the Panthers’ line six times in their round-23 meeting, only for Liam Martin to save the day late for Penrith.
“It’s not really (going to work),” Cleary said.
“On the weekend, they showed that their right edge is pretty potent as well. It’s not that easy.
“It’s just about trying to work together, just focus on our principles and what we know works. The main thing is just staying together as a team.”
Penrith know as well as anyone how dangerous a brash Mitchell can be.
While Mitchell did not play against them in last year’s grand final while suspended, seven of them have spent time with him in State of Origin camps.
“He takes it personal with the opposition he’s up against … you can feel that and (he has) ultimate confidence in himself,” co-captain Isaah Yeo said.
“That shows in the way he plays and the way he talks to the media.
“When you talk as much he can, you’ve got to back it up and he certainly does that.”
And while they insist the approach is not about individuals taking Mitchell down, Penrith will look to their own superstar in Cleary to play a crucial role in kicking to corners.
Penrith had some success early in that round-23 match by doing just that without Cleary, as did the Sydney Roosters two weeks later in the final round of the regular season.
Cleary is renowned for having one of the best boots in the competition, and will need a kicking game similar to the one that won him the Clive Churchill Medal last year to keep Mitchell quiet.
“It’s a matter of how you give (Mitchell) the ball and limiting his chances,” Yeo said.
“If you’ve got a good kick-and-chase … that will either take that out or limit him at least.”