Penrith Panthers captain Isaah Yeo has spoken about the influence of long-standing assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo, after it was confirmed he would be departing the club at the end of the season to take the head coaching role at the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The move comes after months of speculation and amid a coaching exodus from the foot of the mountains, with Trent Barrett, Andrew Webster and now Ciraldo all leaving Ivan Cleary's team within the last 12 months.
Yeo lauded the positive influence of all three on the club, but gave particular praise for their defensive record under Ciraldo's influence.
“I met (Ciraldo) during my last year of under-20s and first year of NRL,” Yeo told Zero Tackle.
“We’ve had the best defence for going on two and a half years now, and that’s all because of him.
"It’s his system. He’s a huge loss.”
Yeo’s not wrong – for the past two seasons Penrith have had plenty of breathing room when it comes to the question of best defensive record in the NRL - even compared to the Storm.
Ciraldo spent a lot of time in the Panthers' under-20s system before moving to the head coaching role, and though Yeo was just coming out of the junior ranks and into the first team at the time, the outgoing mentor worked very closely with the majority of the current Panthers team, who were all members of the club’s successful 2015 NYC campaign.
“He’s been incredibly important,” said Yeo.
“He’s such a fun guy to have around the team and he loves football – I feel like we’ve all really benefitted from that.”
Yeo was also quick to praise the influence of Webster and Barrett, noting that for all of Ciraldo’s work on the defensive end, the impact of the other coaches on the attacking side was just as important.
Webster will leave Penrith to join the Warriors next year, while most of us recall the difficulties encountered by Trent Barrett during his time at the club Ciraldo is set to join - another reminder that there are no certainties when successful assistant coaches make the jump to the NRL.
“Webby’s (Andrew Webster) a big loss too," Yeo added.
“Baz (Barrett) had brought a bit into our attack but Webby’s added plenty on to that and tweaked it a lot. Baz was a big loss at the time and obviously Webby will be too.”
Despite the raft of departures, it remains to be seen what Ivan Cleary will do with his coaching staff next year. Recent reports have suggested that Barrett actually sought to re-enter the staff at Penrith, but was denied the opportunity as Cleary looks to a fresh approach