James Tamou has been named club captain at the Panthers.
James Tamou has been named club captain at the Panthers.

Panthers defend leadership switch

PENRITH coach Ivan Cleary has defended the curious decision to appoint a club captain five weeks into the NRL season.

James Tamou was appointed to the role this week after emerging from a six-man leadership group including James Maloney and Isaah Yeo.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Josh Mansour and Nathan Cleary were also selected as co-captains in the summer, however Ivan said Tamou emerged from the pack.

"He's come through and grown in that group," Ivan said ahead of Thursday's round-six clash against Cronulla.

"He's effectively risen above and almost selected himself.

"He's well respected, he's consistent, he's a family man with great values, he's playing well.

"He's respected by everyone and I think that role will actually help him personally as well. He's the man to do it."

Widely tipped to challenge for the premiership this season, Penrith have disappointed with just two unconvincing wins from five games.

Former Penrith star Tyrone Peachey starred for the Titans against the Panthers. Photo: Dave Hunt/ AAP
Former Penrith star Tyrone Peachey starred for the Titans against the Panthers. Photo: Dave Hunt/ AAP

They gave Gold Coast their maiden win of the year last week, however, Cleary denied their poor form prompted him into finding a solitary voice.

"That wasn't the plan. Effectively, it was a group of leaders and it was an evolution thing, really. It got to a point where James has come through that," he said.

"I think right now, it's good for the team and he's the man to now lead us with the support of that group.

"When you put these sorts of groups together, the ideal thing would be to have someone actually rise in that group and that's what happened."

The 30-year-old Tamou takes the reins in the third season of a four-year deal with the Panthers, after he joined them from North Queensland at the end of 2016.

He has represented NSW in State of Origin on 14 occasions and played in 12 Test matches for the Kangaroos.

Ivan Cleary has defended the decision to alter his leadership model. (Pic: AAP/Mick Tsikas)
Ivan Cleary has defended the decision to alter his leadership model. (Pic: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

"He was pretty humbled and that's the sort of guy he is. And the rest of the group were right behind him, which is even better," Cleary said.

Cleary has made a handful of changes to teh side edged by the Titans last week, including handing a season debut to returning Panthers prop Tim Grant.

Wayde Egan has also reclaimed a starting berth ahead of the benched Sione Katoa, with Hame Sele dropped.

The Sharks are sweating on a fitness test for Andrew Fifita (knee), while skipper Paul Gallen will need painkillers to manage a rib issue.

It is the first time the two clubs have met since Cronulla knocked Penrith out at last year's semi-final stage with a late Chad Townsend field goal.

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