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Cleary’s plan to lock up Latrell, Lodge throws down gauntlet to Gallen

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. 

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“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.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 28: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs gestures during a South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL training session at Redfern Oval on June 28, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell at Rabbitohs training. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Matthew Lodge of the Roosters looks dejected after a loss during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Lodge throws down gauntlet to Gallen

Roosters prop Matt Lodge has challenged Paul Gallen to a fight in a bid to send the former Sharks skipper’s boxing career into retirement and raise money for disadvantaged youth in Western Sydney.

Lodge gas set up a gofundme account which states “all donations will help me create the establishment of a facility in western Sydney where I grew up.

“A place young kids can get away from violence on the street. Come to the gym, Take up boxing, receive help with their education (tutors) and help with rising youth suicide rates by supplying free councillors / social workers mentors.”

In an Instagram post announcing his intention to take on Gallen, he wrote people “keep asking me so who wants to see it”?

“I’m not a boxer but if my conditions are met. Maybe we can make it work and give @paulgallen13 the last dance he deserves,” he wrote. “The link for the gofundme page is in my Instagram BIO every dollar helps reach the goal and if it doesn’t get there I’ll pull out of the fight and refund your money.”

Lodge, who was jailed in New York for assault in 2015 before controversially being allowed to return to the NRL, said in his gofundme page that “on top of these generous donations I will donate my whole purse from this fight towards making this dream of giving back something a reality”.

“I look forward to one day having this place up and running. Hopefully we can save a few kids from making the same mistakes as me. And you never know it might just be the support some need to get through to adulthood. Dream big.”

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