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Embattled Cleary hits back at NRL critics

Ivan Clearly has defended his coaching credentials after a dismal loss to Canterbury reduced his NRL strike rate to 47 per cent and left Penrith in a desperate fight to make this year's finals.

Under siege for taking the much-fancied Panthers from fifth spot this time last year to ninth just five weeks out from the 2019 playoffs, Cleary admits his side's attack was "poor" in last Saturday's listless loss to the Bulldogs.

But the 2011 grand final mentor hit back at claims his game plan against the second-from-bottom Bulldogs was the "dumbest coaching performance of the year".

"On the attack, I totally agree. I said during the press conference that it wasn't good. To question our attack was fair," Cleary said on Fox Sports' NRL 360 program while rejecting claims he tactically took France-bound NSW State of Origin five-eighth James Maloney out of the game.

"I did think we were getting better after a poor start during the year and that game last week was an anomaly."

Cleary was asked why he would let a player of the calibre of two-time premiership winner Maloney go to the European Super League to link with the Catalans Dragons in 2020.

"It was always on the radar of possibility," he said.

"When a guy like James who has done so much for the game, for our club, when he gets an opportunity to go to the only club in Super League that is in the country that he wants to go to with a coach who he knows personally and gets to extend his career ... he's just about ticked every box and this is his crescendo, I guess."

Cleary refuted claims he harboured ill-feelings towards former Penrith supremo Phil Gould, the man who sacked him from the club four years ago before controversially luring him back to the foot of the mountains for the 2019 season - then quitting as Panthers general manager.

"I have a lot of respect for Gus. He taught me more about the game - daylight second," Cleary said.

"He coached me, got me into coaching, got me here to Penrith. He had a huge impact on my career."

After walking out on Wests Tigers mid-contract to link up with his son, NSW halfback Nathan, at Penrith, Clearly also denied playing family favourites.

"Obviously Nathan is my son and your son is always going to be your son," he said.

"But ... from a professional point of view, he's just a player in the roster. That's how I treat him."

In addition to releasing much-loved captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and fellow fan favourite Waqa Blake mid-season, Cleary is now set to let ex-Origin series winner Reagan Campbell-Gillard leave the Panthers after the classy prop signed a six-year contract extension under former coach Anthony Griffin.

But Cleary made no apologies for the cleanout.

"It's not my roster," he said.

"I'm just part of recruitment and retention committee made up of the heads of club.

"Certainly my decision carries weight, but I'm just trying to get the best value out of the players we have and the cap spend."

© AAP 2019