Penrith star Jarome Luai is “chomping at the bit” ahead of his NRL return that could yet be a one-week cameo as the minor premiers plot the preferred path to finals.
That could include resting key players in the final round of the season to avoid any injuries, but coach Ivan Cleary also said he was cautious not to “overthink” the situation his team finds itself in, with top spot on the NRL table assured with two rounds to go.
Star five-eighth Luai will play his first match in close to a month against the Warriors on Friday having sustained a knee injury in round 19, returning a week ahead of schedule.
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The reigning premiers will be near full strength for the penultimate match of the regular season, minus only suspended co-captain Nathan Cleary, who will return in the first week of the finals.
A final round trip to Townsville to play the Cowboys could provide Penrith with an opportunity to rest players, with nothing to play for, and Cleary confirmed it was something the Panthers were weighing up.
Last year, Penrith played close to a full-strength team in the final round while still pursuing the minor premiership but rested three stars in the last round of 2020 with top spot secured.
“It’s always important to have a plan and luckily we are in a position to have a plan, but you want to keep your eyes firmly on what’s in front of us, which is the Warriors,” Cleary said.
“There are lots of factors and each year is different. This year has been different to last year and situations are forever changing, not just with the team itself but with individual players and some of the things (like getting match time into players).
“All those factors have gone into it. We feel fortunate that we‘re in a position to be able to think like this, but sometimes you can overthink it as well.
“We’ve got a few plans, hopefully they are the right ones.
“Every time you get this opportunity you want to take advantage of it, and that’s how we are thinking.”
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Cleary was adamant that Luai was ready to go after missing the past five games and needed the match practice to sharpen him up for the finals campaign to come, with a rest the following week a consideration.
“We’ll just see how he goes this week first,” he said.
“We’ve got a couple of plans. Things can change very quickly in footy. At this stage we are just worrying about this week.
“We want to want him to play (this weekend). He’s missed four games. That type of injury, it’s better to get out there and get him going.
“Jarome is one of our key playmakers, we need to get him back in.
“He‘s chomping at the bit too, very keen to get him out there. There’s no way we would have played him if there was any risk (to the knee).”
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