Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary has been forced to receive scans on a finger injury only days out from their preliminary final against the Storm. Ivan Cleary's men have five-eighth Jarome Luai under an injury cloud for this week's knockout clash having suffered a dislocated shoulder against the Eels in the second-last week of the NRL regular season.
And the last thing Penrith will want is concerns over Cleary's fitness, with the No.7 taken to hospital for scans on Monday. The two-time premiership-winning halfback has been cleared of any serious damage, but could be hampered in the must-win game against the Storm.
While Cleary will be frustrated with the training mishap, the news is looking slightly better for Luai who is firming to play in the preliminary final. The playmaker dislocated his shoulder four weeks ago against Parramatta, but the five-eighth had identified the grand final qualifier as his most likely return date.
And a full-contact opposed session on Wednesday is likely to be crucial in his bid to return from injury. The Panthers will be desperate to have the two-time premiership-winning combination return for the clash against the Storm, considering their record at club level.
Luai and Cleary have won 83 of 94 games they have started together in the halves since their days in under-20s, having combined for both Penrith and NSW in State of Origin. Cleary produced one of his best games this year for the Panthers as they obliterated the Warriors in a 32-6 qualifying final victory at BlueBet Stadium two weekends ago.
While Cleary's finger issue would be concerning for staff, it would take a more serious injury to stop the halfback from lining-up in this weekend's clash.
— Peter Lang (@PeterVLang) September 18, 2023
Nathan Cleary expected to play on Friday despite requiring scans on finger injury suffered at training (via @telegraph_sport). Thankfully no major damage, but would surely take a significant finger issue to keep Cleary out. Luai/Tago the other Panthers with injury considerations
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) September 18, 2023
The Panthers are hoping to do what no other first grade rugby league side has done since Parramatta 40 years ago, by claiming a third-consecutive premiership in 2023. The Panthers are only one win away from a fourth-consecutive grand final appearance, having won seven of eight matches since Cleary's return.
The halfback says sitting inside the coaches' box alongside his father Ivan during that injury lay-off has actually helped hone his tactical nous. "That's been the coolest thing about the last three years is gaining that different perspective from the coach's point of view," he said. "Seeing the game from up high, it's a lot different. You see what things are working and what things you can try out.
"That's the important part that if you do have time off or you are injured, you're using it the right way and trying to get better. I've had that mindset for the last three years."
Penrith to face Storm in NRL preliminary final
Penrith will be hosting the Storm at Accor stadium this weekend after Craig Bellamy's men won a controversial clash against the Roosters. And Bellamy admitted to getting away with a crucial moment after their second try came off the back of a blatant knock-on. Klein allowed play to continue despite having a perfect view of Harry Grant knocking the ball on.
The referee then gave the Storm a penalty not long after, which they used to march downfield and score via Marion Seve. NRL fans and commentators were left fuming over Klein's blunder.
And the drama didn't stop at the knock on. Bellamy couldn't believe his side weren't awarded a penalty in the dying stages when Grant was hit in the face with a high shot. Klein initially missed the high contact, and the Bunker also failed to intervene despite Grant staying down in an attempt to win a penalty.
With the Roosters up 13-12 at the time, a penalty would have given the Storm a shot at goal to make it 14-13. Luckily for Bellamy's men they scored not long after when Will Warbrick latched onto a cross-field kick from Cameron Munster.
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