‘Happy for him’: No bad blood as Luke Garner signs with Penrith Panthers

Jasper BruceNCA NewsWire
Luke Garner has played 62 games for the Tigers across five seasons. NRL Imagery
Camera IconLuke Garner has played 62 games for the Tigers across five seasons. NRL Imagery Credit: Supplied

Coach Michael Maguire says the Wests Tigers hold no grudges towards Luke Garner, who is taking a pay cut to join the Penrith Panthers from next season.

Garner’s defection is the latest chapter in the Tigers’ rivalry with Ivan Cleary, who overhauled the side’s roster before backing out of his coaching contract to rejoin the Panthers.

The usually reserved Cleary caused a stir by blowing kisses at Tigers fans from the coach’s box after Penrith defeated his former side in 2020.

When their team upset the depleted Panthers last season, Tigers fans were heard chanting “Cleary is a w**ker” at full-time.

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But despite the bitterness of the clubs’ recent history, Maguire insisted he held no ill will towards Garner, who looks likely to replace Bulldogs-bound Viliame Kikau on Penrith’s left edge in 2023.

“‘Garns’ is a great man,” Maguire said on Friday.

“He’s been a big part of the club for a long time.

“But look, opportunities come in your NRL career. You can’t keep everyone unfortunately in our game.

“I’m happy for Garns. I’m happy for all my players who find their way because it’s a tough business rugby league.”

Luke Garner has played 62 games for the Tigers across five seasons. NRL Imagery
Camera IconLuke Garner has played 62 games for the Tigers across five seasons. NRL Imagery Credit: Supplied

Maguire is confident Garner will continue to apply himself at the Tigers in 2022, starting with Saturday’s clash against the Manly Sea Eagles.

“I know ‘Garns’ is going to be really focused around performing for the rest of the season,” he said.

“He’ll put everything into every game. That’s his character. I’m looking forward to enjoying tomorrow with him.”

Maguire said he was hopeful Adam Doueihi could return early from a long-term knee injury.

Doueihi required a second ACL reconstruction after sustaining a partial tear late last season and had been due back in round 14.

The Tigers’ best player in 2021, Doueihi could return to the fray earlier than initially expected.

“He’s off the back of doing it once before so we’re monitoring that,” Maguire said.

“He’s training really well at the moment, so fingers crossed we might be able to get him a tad earlier than what was expected.

“Having someone like that come back into your team is obviously pretty exciting, to have a player of that stature. Adam’s still growing himself as well. He’s got so much more in his game.”

Doueihi’s return could create a selection headache for Maguire; the Tigers’ halves combination of Luke Brooks and Jackson Hastings is firing and Daine Laurie firms as the club’s long-term fullback.

Doueihi is a chance to slot into the centres, having started there on 15 occasions before, but Maguire said he had yet to make a decision about where Doueihi would play.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” he said.

“When Adam’s ready to go, we’ll assess where’s he at. Our big focus is about what we’re doing tomorrow.

“We’ve had a good couple of performances, but we’ve got to keep doing that now. That’s the main focus for all of us. We’ve got to back up what we’ve been doing.”

The Tigers will need all hands on deck to contain Sea Eagles superstar Tom Trbojevic, who is returning from injury for Saturday’s game.

The Sea Eagles confirmed on Friday that Josh Schuster would miss the clash with a calf injury.

Schuster missed the first seven weeks of the season with an ankle injury and only made his return to the side last week.

Originally published as ‘Happy for him’: No bad blood as Luke Garner signs with Penrith Panthers

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