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Panthers have moved on from Jennings saga
Joe Barton
19:44 AEST Fri Feb 1 2013

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary says the club has recovered from star centre Michael Jennings' departure to NRL rivals the Sydney Roosters last month as if it never happened.

Jennings ended a near season-long saga when he joined the Roosters a fortnight ago - a remarkable coup so late in the pre-season, considering the 24-year-old's stature as an incumbent NSW centre.

But Cleary is adamant that, despite planning all pre-season as if Jennings would be lining up for the Panthers in round one, his exit has been anything but disruptive.

And while Jennings said it had been emotional to farewell the only teammates he'd ever known, Cleary said he was proud of how his group had banded together and moved on without him.

"I've got to give massive credit to the players - it's like it never happened," Cleary told AAP on Friday.

"Honestly from looking at them and the way they've trained, they've just moved on. It hasn't been distracting at all.

"They're professionals. It doesn't mean they're not friends with him.

"I'm sure they're all friends with other people at other clubs as well.

"You've got to remember there's 14 new faces here as well that have never played with him."

Cleary said he had expected to have Jennings' services for Penrith's round one clash with Canberra, but reasoned that it could work in the club's favour with half a dozen candidates to fill the centre spots now.

Recruits Dean Whare (Manly), Lewis Brown (Warriors) and Wes Naiqama (Newcastle) have impressed in pre-season, while veterans Brad Tighe and Geoff Daniela are around and versatile youngster Josh Mansour has the potential and physique to slip into the centres.

"I always planned to have everyone who started in the pre-season," Cleary added.

"But it's an opportunity for someone else and there's a few options there.

"It's something we all forget - when someone leaves, a door opens for someone else. Not everyone is disappointed."

Regular fullback Lachlan Coote has trained exclusively at five-eighth in the off-season, with Whare and Naiqama also set to compete for the No.1 jersey.

"Dean Whare's trained a lot at fullback, he's a guy that I think can play that position well," Cleary said.

"He's got limited experience there, (he was) obviously behind Brett Stewart at Manly.

"I think he's got the skill set to play fullback and there's a huge amount of improvement in him just by virtue of experience."


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