History shows why Penrith coach Ivan Cleary can be confident about son Nathan returning for the NRL finals in top gear despite being suspended until the end of the regular season.
- Penrith’s Nathan Cleary has accepted a five-week suspension for his tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown
- Despite the defending premiers missing both Cleary and Jarome Luai until the finals, coach Ivan Cleary is still confident his side can hit the play-offs in top gear
- The Panthers take on the ninth-placed Raiders on Saturday night
Cleary was hit with a five-game ban for a spear tackle on Parramatta’s Dylan Brown. He will be sidelined until week one of the finals.
It means the halfback will have only played one full game — a July 23 win over Cronulla — between State of Origin III and the Panthers’ first finals appearance.
But his father said on Monday he would hit the ground running when he returned from his lengthy suspension.
“There has been enough experience for Nathan out of the last few years, probably starting in 2018,” Cleary said.
“He missed eight weeks, came back and had a couple of good games and he made his Origin debut.
“He has always come back from time out pretty much firing, so I think he will be fine.”
Halves partner Jarome Luai remains sidelined with a knee injury for a similar time frame. However, Cleary was confident the duo would pick up where they left off.
“They’ve played together for six years, so that’s a help, and they’ll be training together once Romie (Luai) is up and about.
“I feel like that training should get us in a good enough position for those guys to click back together.”
Despite the lengthy ban, the halfback will join the rest of the squad on a mid-season camp to Kiama on the NSW South Coast before Saturday’s trip to Canberra.
Cleary said the Panthers had considered fighting the severity of his son’s grade-three charge but chose not to, given what was at stake.
If the NRL judiciary had upheld the grading, Cleary would have missed the first week of the finals campaign as well as the Panthers’ remaining five regular-season games.
“I definitely thought we had a case there but in the end the risk was too high for him to lose another week,” said Cleary, whose side finished the season with games against Canberra, Melbourne, South Sydney, the Warriors and North Queensland.
The challenge for the Panthers is now to wrap up a minor premiership with a relatively inexperienced halves pairing.
Sean O’Sullivan will be partnered with either utility Jaeman Salmon or two-game rookie Kurt Falls, although Cleary would not be drawn on who would get the nod to play the Raiders.
Cleary was unable to confirm if center Stephen Crichton would be back after suffering a laceration to his ear in the win over the Sharks.