Griffin calls for referees to protect Cleary in return

Matt Encarnacion and Steve Zemek
Penrith's Nathan Cleary is tipped to hit the ground running in his return from injury

With Nathan Cleary set to make his anticipated return for Penrith, Anthony Griffin hopes referees follow through on this week's memo to NRL coaches about defenders hitting kickers late.

Cleary, who makes his comeback against his dad's Wests Tigers' side, is back seven weeks after he was felled in a tackle by Canterbury prop Aaron Woods following a bomb.

Griffin accepted playmakers were going to get hit once or twice a game, and described the Woods hit on Cleary in round three as an "unfortunate" incident.

However, he revealed coaches have this week been warned that officials would be keeping a close eye on defenders following through on their kick pressure.

"The referees have come out this week and said they're going to scrutinise that a little bit more, which is good," Griffin said.

"But I think part of your defensive system, for all teams, is that you're trying to put pressure on the kicker and it's like any collision in our game; at some stage there's going to be an injury.

"Obviously we weren't happy to lose our halfback but I don't think that's going to affect him coming back this week."

Griffin's comments come as Ivan Cleary predicted Nathan would hit the ground running as he attempts to prove his fitness to NSW mentor Brad Fittler over the next two weeks.

While he was nervous for his son in his first game back from a medial ligament tear, the Tigers coach wanted his side to pressure him like they would any other No.7.

"It doesn't matter in terms of what our boys do," Cleary said.

"I don't deliberately go out and target anyone.

"But the players are smart, they understand there are certain players they need to pressure at different times.

"I don't need to say too much about that.

"But as a father, it's definitely conflicting, there's no way around that.

"It is what it is.

"It's a bit of professional integrity. We've both got jobs to do, so that's what we'll do."

Promising hooker Sione Katoa starts in the No.9 for the second-placed Panthers, who have lost captain Peter Wallace for two weeks with a shoulder injury.

Another young rake in Wayde Egan joins the bench, as does fellow rookie prop Jack Hetherington.

For the seventh-placed Tigers, in-form centre Mahe Fonua was dropped for disciplinary reasons, with Kevin Naiqama taking his place in the run-on side.

STATS THAT MATTER

* Penrith have won five of their past six against the Tigers, with all five by 14 points or more, and have scored at least 16 points in six-straight matches.

* The Cleary family won't be the only ones doing battle, with Watene-Zelezniak brothers Malakai and Dallin facing each other for the second time in their career. Dallin scored a double in a win last year.

* A win will give the Tigers seven in their opening 11 matches for the first time.