Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has bristled at suggestions he's resting full-fit players in the lead-up to the NRL finals. The Panthers will be without Mitch Kenny, Scott Sorenson and Izack Tago this week as they take on Parramatta.
Brian To'o is back on deck after being rested for the Round 25 win over the Titans, while Tago has been out for the last six weeks due to a leg injury. Cleary initially played down Tago's injury to the media, while Kenny and Sorensen also sat out last week's game with what have only been reported by the Panthers as minor niggles.
'CAN'T DO IT': Mitchell Moses roasted over confession about fiancee
Cleary has been conservative in the past and rested players in the lead-up to the finals. He notably rested almost the entire starting side for their last game before the finals in 2022, having also given players spells ahead of the play-offs in 2020.
This year's minor premiership is shaping up to be a lot closer, with the Panthers and Broncos equal on points with two games remaining in the regular season. Aside from To'o, Cleary denied on Wednesday that he was resting fit players in preparation for the Panthers' push to a third-consecutive premiership.
"They're reasonably significant injuries. They're not good enough to be able to play," the coach said. "It would maybe be different if we were playing a grand final so it's a balance between trying to get those guys in absolutely perfect shape to be able to play. That's what we're looking to do."
Cleary was confident Tago, Sorensen and Kenny would all be fit in time for the finals, which begin the second week of September. "Yes I am, at this stage," Cleary said. "Most of them are fairly under control. They should be all right."
The Panthers are remaining coy about whether they will rest players for the final game of the regular season against North Queensland, with upcoming results likely to influence that decision. If Penrith beat the Eels on Thursday night and Brisbane win their next two games, the Panthers will need to defeat the Cowboys in oder to secure the minor premiership.
"We've had a plan for a while but it seems that each week, something happens," Cleary said. "We've just been getting a few little niggles here and there and a couple of injuries here and there so I don't want to look to far ahead."
Liam Martin will celebrated his 100th first-grade game in the Panthers' clash with Parramatta. "He's really developed his game, particularly over the last few years, and become a very good representative player," Cleary said of Martin. "We love having him here."
Parramatta coach apologises to fans after flop
The Eels' chances of making the finals appear dead and buried, although they are still a mathematical possibility. They would need to upset the reigning premiers by a big margin on Thursday night, before a bye in Round 27.
Even then, a handful of other results would need to go the Eels' way in order for them to squeak into the top eight with a 12-12 record. According to our predictions they will finish 12th - a staggering fall after making the grand final last year.
"There were plenty of games there where we had our chances or we had a moment we could've turned into something," coach Brad Arthur said on Tuesday. "We're only talking about maybe another two or three wins. We started the season with 0-3 and we were in a position to win those games, too.
"I'm just disappointed for everyone involved with the club. I'm disappointed for the players, disappointed for our members and fans."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.