NRL Rd 2 - Dragons v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: Sean O'Sullivan of the Panthers offloads the ball during the round two NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Penrith Panthers at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on March 18, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Penrith Panthers reserve halfback Sean O’Sullivan has been forced to deny allegations this week that his move to the Dolphins in 2023 was the result of nepotism.

O’Sullivan, who has played five NRL games this year in the absence of Nathan Cleary and 26 in his NRL career to date, is the son of Dolphins recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan.

Despite the connection, O’Sullivan senior played no part in the negotiations that secured Sean’s move to the NRL’s newest franchise and the current Panther has taken offence at the suggestion.

“When there was talk about it, it wasn’t really true,” O’Sullivan told AAP.

“I know I’ve opened myself up to criticism by moving there. But how I play should determine what the media says.”

Despite limited opportunities, O’Sullivan has performed well at NRL level during Cleary’s Origin absence and the opening phase of the season, when the star half was missing due to a shoulder injury. Penrith have remained undefeated with O’Sullivan at the helm.

He’s been just as important for the club’s NSW Cup side, who currently sit second on the ladder after losing to Western Suburbs last week with O’Sullivan on NRL duty.

With Cleary set to return to the NRL this week after a well-earned break, O’Sullivan admits that he might never get to play first-grade for Penrith again if injuries can be avoided.

“I came here knowing that would be the case,” he said.

“I knew the Origin period was something I really needed to nail. I’m just glad we could get two from two.”

Though his time at the foot of the mountains is running out, O’Sullivan is taking the opportunity to learn everything he can from his fellow No.7.

“It’s just (Cleary’s) temperament, even off the field – how he prepares and his mindset going into a game.

“His confidence is unbelievable. It's something I'm striving for. I’ll keep picking his brain as much as I can.”