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Nathan Cleary admitted he was nervous about his return to the field against South Sydney but aside from missing three conversions, he was overall pleased with his comeback efforts. 

Cleary said he felt plenty of nerves in the lead-up to his first NRL game back since last year's grand final after a disrupted pre-season following a shoulder reconstruction last October.

The Panthers halfback slotted back into the side seamlessly as the defending premiers withheld the Rabbitohs 26-12 in a high-quality grand final rematch.

After a three-week delay in his return, Cleary also overcame some mid-week banter from Rabbitohs forward Jai Arrow that the visitors would test the Clive Churchill medallist.

"It [the shoulder] was good, I was nervous all week, just about playing again and seeing how I would go," Cleary said.

Pure desperation defence from Penrith

"Once I got there today I was ready to go. I was quite confident with all the preparation I’d done.

"I was probably just thinking too much about the wind with the goal-kicks early on. I was relieved when I got one in front. I’m still trying to get my feet again.

"It helps playing in a team that we’ve got, I’m very blessed to play alongside the players in this team. They were helping me out."

Cleary laughed off the talk of any extra feeling being generated between the Panthers and Rabbitohs following last year's decider.

"I think it’s always going to be like that with two teams who are usually at the top of the table and obviously after last year’s grand final rematch, there’s always going to be a lot of feeling," he said.

Luai at his creative best

"It makes it fun for the fans I guess, all the talk that comes with it. It’s all part of the entertainment.

"They’re the games that are enjoyable to be a part of and it’s definitely a lot of intensity but really good."

Five-eighth Jarome Luai was a major beneficiary of Cleary's return with the livewire playmaker playing his part with two try assists in the 14-point win.

The halves combination extended their incredible winning record to a 93% win rate from 43 NRL games played together.

"He's one of the best in the league and just training with him, his presence and being out there, he makes everyone's jobs a lot easier," Luai said.

"You know before he talks what he's thinking already, just having that connection with him. It's good to get back out there with him."

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.