Cleary responds to ‘deplorable’ ref accusation

UPDATE: Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is set to defend himself his position to the NRL after being hit with a $20,000 fine for questioning the integrity of the referee in his side's game against Canberra.

In a statement released by the Panthers this afternoon, Cleary denied that it was his intention to question the integrity of the referees and flagged a "formal response" to the NRL breach notice he was sent earlier in the day.

"While that process runs its course, I wish to clarify it was never my intention to question the integrity of the referees," he said in the statement.

"I will not be commenting further on this matter until it is finalised."

Cleary hit out after Saturday night's match despite a 28-12 victory and a 7-6 penalty count in favour of his team, suggesting that referee Gerard Sutton had made decisions in order to even up the game.

"It felt like they (Canberra) were being managed back into the game," Cleary said. "That's all I can say. Some really strange calls."

 Ivan Cleary

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys branded those comments "deplorable" and acting NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo followed up with a financial penalty.

"I am disappointed that a person in a leadership position within our game has made comments that question the integrity of our officials," Abdo said in a statement this morning.

"Our leaders should be professional and set the standard for our game. Comments like this will not be tolerated. The foundation of our competition is its integrity and Ivan's comments undermined that.

"At times our officials, like players, will make errors during games. Everyone is entitled to their opinion on those individual decisions, but we will not accept the integrity of our officials being questioned.

"Every Monday we live stream a football briefing explaining every contentious decision. Our officiating is as open and transparent as it can possibly be. Ivan's comments were disappointing, not aligned to the standards we uphold and will not be tolerated."

Cleary has his side running first in the NRL, boasting an 11-1-1 record.

Penrith finished just 10th in Cleary's first season back at the club last year, yet are now on track for a serious crack at the premiership, with his son - NSW State of Origin halfback Nathan Cleary - running the show on the field.

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