Nathan Cleary.
Nathan Cleary has suffered a finger injury ahead of Penrith's preliminary final against Melbourne. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Cleary hurts finger but Penrith backs halves to play

Scott Bailey September 18, 2023

Penrith expect star halves Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary to play in their NRL preliminary final against Melbourne, despite the latter sending a fresh scare through Panthers training.

Cleary was sent for scans on his finger on Monday morning after being injured during a routine field session, just four days out from the grand final qualifier.

Scans have since cleared him of any significant damage, with Penrith confident their star No.7 will have no issue taking the field on Friday night.

Realistically, it would have taken a significant setback for Cleary not to be able to play in the match as the Panthers strive for a third straight title.

But the fact the 25-year-old is expected to train in the club’s next session on Wednesday is the best possible sign for the Panthers.

Cleary’s initial pain would have been the last thing his father and coach Ivan needed this week.

While five-eighth Luai is on track to face the Storm, a crucial full-contact opposed session on Wednesday will likely decide his fate.

Luai has not played since dislocating his shoulder against Parramatta in round 26, but completed a second straight session on Monday and is on track to play on Friday.

The 26-year-old and Penrith had always targeted Friday’s preliminary final for his return date, and he resumed training within eight days of the injury to push for a comeback.

The Panthers are confident Luai will also be able to play on Friday night.

“He said if it was anyone else, they would be out for two years,” centre Stephen Crichton quipped.

“He has been doing his rehab pretty good and diligently as well. He has been going well.

“A person like Romi is itching to get back on the field. This is all he ever loves doing. Footy is in his DNA. 

“Just to be sitting on the sideline watching the boys, I think he would be pretty keen to get back out there and get the job done.”

The Storm were on Monday preparing for both Luai and Cleary to play, having been stung before by the wounded Panthers in the 2021 preliminary final.

At that point, Cleary was carrying a deteriorating shoulder, Dylan Edwards had a stress fracture in his foot, James Fisher-Harris a knee problem, Brian To’o was managing ankle soreness and Scott Sorensen was recovering from wrist surgery.

Penrith won that match 10-6, and the resolve that has helped them win the last two premierships was clear to see.

“It does give you a bit of a steely mindset going forward in big games as well,” Edwards told AAP.

“There were a few boys busted that day.

“It’s all learning. You get more and more experienced, more accustomed to being where you need to be during games as well.”