Cleary has admitted the scandal took a serious toll on the club. AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Cleary has admitted the scandal took a serious toll on the club. AAP Image/Craig Golding.

‘Off a cliff:’ Cleary opens up on sex tape toll

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has finally opened up on the Panthers sex tape scandal, admitting the summer saga took "an enormous toll" on his young players.

Having watched his side upset Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium in Friday Night Football -- and thereby end a horror run of six straight losses -- Cleary spoke candidly about the pre-season drama that sees club young gun Tyrone May still sidelined under the NRL's new 'No Fault Stand Down' policy.

May, 22, is facing police charges of recording and distributing sexual acts without consent.

Fellow Panthers players Tyrone Phillips and Liam Coleman were also interviewed by the Integrity Unit in March after a short video involving them and a woman was also circulated.

While no charges were laid, neither of those two players are still at the club.

At the time of the investigations however, Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher said he could not rule out more videos involving his players being released, with the players remaining under scrutiny for weeks.

Yet after watching his side secure an emphatic, if scrappy, win against the Eels, Cleary opened up on exactly what impact the saga had on his players.

Quizzed on the pressure his team has been under in 2019, it was the coach who raised the 'Sex Tape' saga.

"Other things that have happened, particularly at the start of the year when we had the video scandal," he said. "That took an enormous toll on our team.

"I don't even know how much.

"But it was big.

"There was a lot of uncertainty around.

"And it obviously rattled them (the players) because we went off a cliff at the start of the year.

The Panthers have struggled all season. Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images.
The Panthers have struggled all season. Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images.

"So a lot of them have been under pressure.

"The whole club has been."

Asked if he felt his players had now recovered, Cleary continued: "Yeah I think so.

"But as I said, there was so much uncertainty around (the tapes).

"Where it all came from, where it was going ... there were probably a lot of players throughout the NRL thinking like that.

"So there was certainly a lot of scrutiny on our boys. And you can't measure that."

While he conceded to having no way to measure the impact of the video saga, Cleary pointed to his side's performance in a pre-season trial against Parramatta shortly after the drama broke.

"All I know is we had an amazing pre-season, everyone was looking great," Cleary recalled. "Then one day before our biggest trial ... yeah.

The Panthers scored just their third win of the season. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.
The Panthers scored just their third win of the season. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.

"We struggled.

"Then lost a few close games early in the year which rocked our confidence."

Cleary added that the teamwork within his squad had definitely suffered.

"So improving that is the plan moving forward," he said. "Any organisation that's struggled it usually comes back to that and we have some work to do there.

"We've also had a team where the dynamic has changed since last year.

"And when you lose a captain like Peter Wallace, and some other guys that really had a big say in the dynamic of the side, our teamwork has suffered.

"So the plan moving forward is rebuild that teamwork and leadership so those the sum becomes bigger than the individuals."