Wayne Bennett didn't mince words on Friday. Photo: South Sydney - Twitter

Wayne Bennett sent out a warning ahead of South Sydney's final against the Penrith Panthers, hitting out on the Panthers' blocking tactics to protect kicker Nathan Cleary

Wayne Bennett did not hold back ahead of the South Sydney Rabbitoh’s Saturday night final against the Penrith Panthers, demanding the rule book apply to both sides.

A war of words began between Bennett and Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary this week after both coaches pointed to incidents surrounding the Rabbitoh’s ability to put kick pressure on Panther’s co-captain Nathan Cleary.

The Panthers’ gripe surrounds a number of incidents involving late challenges to Cleary’s kick, including a high shot from Cameron Murray following a kick last year.

Meanwhile, Bennett has asked for answers from the NRL regarding Penrith players providing illegal blocks to protect the kicker.

The rules do allow for players to provide a stationary block to protect the kicker, however, Bennett repeatedly pointed to three second-half plays in the Round 23 match between the two sides where Panthers players moved forwards, backwards or sideways to provide a block on the kick pressure.

Speaking to the media on Friday, Bennett explained what he was looking for by going to the NRL.

“I asked for some direction from the NRL in recent times as to what our position was and what was allowable and what wasn’t allowable because at the moment there’s no doubt that it’s illegal what they do and you need to go look at the vision.

“If you look at the three kicks that he kicked where we knocked one on, pushed one dead and we got tackled in the end goal area, you’ll see what our guys putting kick-pressure on, you’ll see how much obstruction there was on their route to get to Nathan, and they didn’t even get close to Nathan.

It didn’t end there with the South Sydney coach providing specific examples from the Round 23 match between the two sides.

“So you’re allowed to have blockers in the game, they’re not illegal but they’ve got to be stationary, they’re interfering with our line,” Bennett said.

“With the kick-pressure that we’re putting on from where we’re bringing it from, around the marker area, they’re either moving forward backwards or sideways to block that player from getting pressure to the kicker.

“So on those three kicks and the three times there was two blockers on each one of those three kicks, he put in that stopped our players from getting any pressure on Nathan at all, he was untouched in that game, we couldn’t get near him.

“It’s been going on for quite a while and the game has to address it because now we’ve made it public, it’s illegal and they would say ‘well we’re just going on the kick chase’ they’re not going on the kick chase, they’re moving sideways and they’re moving backwards and they’re making contact with shoulders and hands.”

To add further flames to the fire, Bennett alleged he had a source claiming the Panthers practice these blocks during training.

“I’ll finish it off from a very very reliable source, they practice it at training so it’s a tactic that they use and if you watch their games you’ll see it time and time again.”

The veteran coach certainly wasn’t done there, putting out a public warning that South Sydney won’t tolerate continually being blocked on Saturday night.

“Well they know what’s happening and they know that there will be a response to it from our point of view if we’re blocked again tomorrow,” Bennett said

“From doing our job to playing within the rules, we’re allowed to put pressure on the kicker. Everybody knows that and everybody knows if you are in the block position then you can’t move.”

Bennett made the point to state he wasn’t suggesting that the Panthers were cheating despite the inflammatory remark.

“I’m not suggesting they cheat, I’m just telling what they practice at training, they mightn’t see it as cheating you’ll have to ask them that question but they’ll be lying to you if they tell you they don’t practice it.

“You see the players go into position you know it’s a trained thing. You see how the players respond to when the kick’s about to come, the fifth and last tackle. It just doesn’t happen by coincidence.”

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Photo: South Sydney Rabbitohs – Twitter

Blocks haven’t been the only woe for the Rabbitohs facing the Panthers.

In 2021 Souths have been one of the more disciplined sides, averaging just four penalties per week, however, across the two matches against the Penrith this year they racked up 23 penalties.

In the Round 23 match South Sydney gave away 11 penalties including a rare downtown penalty from Mark Nichols meanwhile Penrith gave away two for the match.

Bennett acknowledged the disparity, asserting that they’d moved on but that he doesn’t believe the side is ill disciplined.

“There’s lots of things I can put it down to but the major issue, the last time I don’t think anyone that watched the game -and again we viewed the video- didn’t think it was kind of one way traffic, we shut our mouths, we live with it, we get on with it.

“Regardless of who we’re playing I’ve never gone out as a coach to create mayhem against the opposition that’s not within the rules.

“We went through the video and it’s not your job it’s my job, then you’ll see they did similar type things but they didn’t get penalised for it so that’s the referee’s decision on the day but in terms of head highs and in terms of lost balls on the ground.

“The ref didn’t do anything about it and that’s fine that’s his perogative but it’s not because we’re ill disciplined as a football team.”

The seven time premiership coach clarified that he wasn’t asking for preferential treatment for his men, but couldn’t understand how they only racking up a high penalty count in matches against the Panthers this season.

“Here’s my point the ref is out to ref for both teams, he’s not out there to ref for one team, so if we’re doing things that are not within the rule book then I expect to be penalised but if they’re doing similar type things then I expect them to be penalised as well.

“It’s a pretty simple formula for me. If the count is 10 penalties each of 8-10 or something like that, that’s all livable.

“But you can’t tell me that we’re the least penalised team in the comp and we go out in one game and try to create mayhem- or two games- and that we do it deliberately, it just doesn’t happen.”

Still not through with the discussion about the blocks he used them as an example as to the inequities in the refereeing previous match up, identifying the poor block that South Sydney was penalised for in the match.

“He’s there to adjudicate on the rules of the game and for both teams, it applies on both teams,” Bennett said.

“Let’s go back to the block plays, they’re running blocks, interfering with guys putting kick pressure on it and there’s been no action taken against them. We run a half-baked block in that game and we get penalised for it.”

Patience clearly running thin Bennett fired the final shot, not wanting his players to face a disadvantage believing that the current rules not being interpreted consistently.

“The end result is I’m not going to have my players disadvantaged at the expense of them because the rules aren’t being interpreted and they run blocks and they run them on a consistent basis.

“If you go to the three instances in the second half when we tried to get pressure on Nathan on three of his kicks which were pretty influential in the game, we were blocked out on the three of them and that’s the issue for me.”

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