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Injured Panthers were 'hanging by a thread'

Heads, shoulders, knees and toes.

You name it, a Penrith player has busted or broken it over the past month or more – their 17 seemingly held together by strapping tape each game day, and far less for the rest of the week.

Their 42-40 finals aggregate across four gruelling post-season games was already on the podium for the tightest premiership run of the past 50 years.

Only Melbourne's negative 72-90 differential from 1999 (thanks to a week one Dragons thumping that was overturned on grand final day), and Manly's 45-45 tally from 1976 have seen a title secured by smaller finals margins.

And only with the Provan-Summons trophy safely in Penrith's keeping is the true extent of their injury turmoil starting to emerge.

Dylan Edwards in a moonboot for the traditional team walk on grand final morning?

He has actually lived in it for six-and-a-half days a week for at least a month, the fullback's broken foot only emerging from its protective case on game days throughout September.

The number of training sessions he and fellow backfield dynamo Brian To'o (syndesmosis) actually completed throughout the finals series can be counted on one hand.

One leg was effectively all James Fisher-Harris had from the second minute of the preliminary final epic against Melbourne, ongoing bone bruising in his knee limiting both movement and minutes.

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Fellow prop Moses Leota's late-season calf tear never fully healed, instead pinging again to rule him out of weeks one and three of the finals, the softly-spoken star unable to complete a field session over the past month.

All four sat out Penrith's grand final captain's run, joining Tevita Pangai jnr (month-long MCL strain in his knee) as spectators.

A few weeks earlier Scott Sorensen was in such pain from a dislocated wrist he had finished two painkilling green whistles before leaving CBus Super Stadium and then waiting a day for a corrective operation, yet there he was running down Jahrome Hughes  three weeks later.

Teammate Kurt Capewell has at least been able to train and play in recent times with a broken finger.

If the Broncos-bound back-rower needs surgery it will be minor, likely operations for To'o and Fisher-Harris less so.

Nathan Cleary meanwhile goes under the knife in coming days after sounding South Sydney's demise by a thousand kicks on Sunday night.

The shoulder he first dislocated in Origin II has been in a similar state to the Rabbitohs gallant defence at Suncorp Stadium, hanging on for dear life.

"To do what he’s done, with one arm… I can’t even explain what he’s gone through and the fact that his one arm is just hanging off his body," Penrith great, board member and NSW selector Greg Alexander said after full-time on Fox Sports.

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"It’s just strapped together. To do what he did tonight ... the kicking game of Nathan was superb.

"... The tendon was torn 80 per cent so it was just hanging. They tried cortisone (injections) to try and sort of shock it into some scar tissue, to strengthen it a little bit, but I don’t think much of it worked.

"He just strapped it up and got on with it."

Penrith's finals run has been much the same. Each triumph was predicted to be their last given the toll they took.

Each thrilling win proved their making. Equally so, the week one loss to the Rabbitohs and the soundbites swapped by Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett before and after.

For all the focus on blockers and kick chasers, followed by an underwhelming Panthers performance a month ago, the difference was stark in the decider.

Cleary punted long and often, with little kick-pressure applied – a vicious cycle pinning Souths at their end as their defence increasingly fatigued.

Penrith's own weekly turbulence meanwhile only served to strengthen their resolve, to the point Ivan Cleary saw it as part of his team's 2021 "identity".

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Co-captain Isaah Yeo went further. Each finals game with assorted ailments and injuries took them one step closer to the final game, even if it was hobbled.

"Pretty much since the Origin period we've been backs against the wall a little bit - never had the same team on the park two weeks in a row," Yeo said.

"I was always looking at it as a positive that we were just going to be so battle-hardened if we were to get to that point.

"Obviously we've had some really close games.

"Parramatta, everyone wrote us off against [the] Storm just because of how much juice it took out of us, then that same thing followed on.

"Obviously some players weren't training but that's happened for the last month as well. We just felt like we were so ready to do it and it's two years in the making.

"We weren't ready to do it last year. Things certainly didn't go as smoothly as it did the previous year this year, but we were ready for the big moment."