Panthers legend Scott Sattler has warned superstar halfback Nathan Cleary may not be at his brilliant best for Penrith’s qualifying final after a five-week sideline stint.
The 24-year-old was handed a hefty suspension for a dangerous lifting tackle on Dylan Brown during Round 20’s cross-town grudge match.
Cleary will return for the first week of finals and Sattler believes the Blues halfback may have to “dust the cobwebs off” before injecting himself into the contest.
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“I think his timing might be a little bit out, there is no doubt he is working harder than anyone else, but until you get on the field and you have the fire and your face, you need to start adjusting your timing,” Sattler said on the Fox League podcast.
“In finals it becomes quicker, so you need to take another couple of steps back so he is going to be a little bit jaded I think early on in the game.
“I was talking to the great Gary Freeman during the week, being one of the great halves.
“I said ‘if you had six weeks off and were going into the finals, would you feel as though you would have to adjust on the run’.
“He said ‘absolutely, things that I was doing six weeks ago are going to be completely different in the finals’.
“He is probably going to have to dust the cobwebs off a little bit early on.”
While Sattler has no doubts Cleary will be doing everything he can to prepare himself for a finals baptism of fire — the Maroons representative urged the playmaker to take a “defensive” approach.
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“But if he goes in with a defensive attitude, don’t worry about what you are going to do with the ball in hand, just give yourself a little bit of space, especially with your kicking game,” Sattler said.
“Just go in with a defensive mentality, get your shoulder in, get your head to the side, get really good contact and as soon as you take a defensive mentality, you get yourself into the game really early.
“The rest of it just melts off that.”
The Panthers are the clear favourite to take out the premiership and coach Ivan Cleary has rested majority of his regular first grade 17 in Round 25 to take on the Cowboys.
But, Sattler believes rivals will be readying a surprise attack if they take on the reigning premiers — and named one team who could be holding something up their sleeve.
“I think the Cowboys especially, I think they are going to hold something up their sleeve that they haven’t used all year,” Sattler said.
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“I don’t think they will use it this week against them in Townsville, but I think there is something up their sleeve that they will identify, that they will try and break the shackles.
“Something unpredictable, and you have got to be unpredictable against the Panthers, you can’t go toe to toe.
“I think there is going to be some clubs, especially the Cowboys, I think they have something up their sleeve.”