Ivan Cleary like family to Panthers' May

Tyrone May has opened up on his tight relationship with Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, identifying him as one of the leading senior figures in his life.

TYRONE MAY of the Panthers is tackled by Josh McCrone of the Dragons during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Pepper Stadium in Sydney, Australia.
TYRONE MAY of the Panthers is tackled by Josh McCrone of the Dragons during the NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Pepper Stadium in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

For Tyrone May, Ivan Cleary is far more than just a coach leading him into his first NRL grand final on Sunday against Melbourne.

He is a crucial senior figure, not just in football but in life.

Cleary's return to the Panthers last year evoked a change in several players, as the club prepares for their first grand final in 17 years this weekend.

But few have been impacted the way May has been.

The Penrith utility has endured a highly-publicised and turbulent two years, missing all of last season before pleading guilty to recording an intimate image without consent.

The aftermath still lingers, with May set to exit the bubble next week and quietly go about completing his 300 hours of community service helping maintain dog parks.

But Cleary was there in court with him, showing faith in the 24-year-old before recalling him to the team this year and re-signing him.

"He is (such a senior figure to me)," May told AAP.

"Obviously I have my old man who is a massive cornerstone for me. He has been massive for my footy since I was young.

"But I have things I can talk to Ivan about that I wouldn't talk to my actual dad about.

"It's a different relationship and I am thankful I have that with Ivan and his family.

"I can't thank them for what they have done for me and especially in the past two years I've had."

May first entered the Cleary fray as a teenager, close friend with now housemate Nathan while Ivan was still in his first stint as head coach of the Panthers.

"I'd never been coached by him (before he came back)," May said.

"But I got to know him more because I stayed over (at the Cleary house) a few times after Nath and I would go out partying."

Over time, that relationship became more important.

Ivan's return to Penrith for 2019 could not have been better timed, as May soon found himself in trouble.

Ivan was again one of the first men he felt comfortable talking to.

"My two parents, they are tough love," May said.

"My mum is a Samoan lady with heritage. My grandfather was really tough on her and she has taken that same step with me and my siblings.

"It's a good one.

"And my dad is a real hard man. Ivan is the one I can confide in and talk to.

"It's good I can have that with another family, while I still have my family who never let me get ahead of myself."

May still doesn't know what role Cleary will have him play in Sunday's grand final, after starting in the centres last week for Brent Naden.

On the right edge he offers another attacking option, acting as a second five-eighth for Nathan close to the line.

But what he does want to do is help not only himself but Ivan to their first premierships.

"To see what he has done to turn the culture around, he's turned it on his head," May said.