After a successful State of Origin period that saw the Panthers win all but one game and remain in top spot on the ladder, coach Ivan Cleary is looking forward to having all his big guns back on deck for the run to the finals.
With six players involved in Origin during the series, along with Spencer Leniu joining camp for the third game, the Panthers “next man up” mentality has once again helped navigate a tricky eight-week period with minimal damage.
Indeed, that damage was limited solely to a golden point loss to the in-form Cowboys and a hamstring injury to Nathan Cleary as the likes of Jack Cogger and Tom Jenkins stepped up from NSW Cup and the likes of Lindsay Smith and Zac Hosking stepped into bigger first grade roles.
As for the secret to winning games during the Origin period, Cleary claimed he didn’t know it if there was one but pointed towards the learning curve of the past two seasons.
“I know that 2021 was a bit of a lesson for us,” Cleary said.
“We didn’t really do that well, so we were really keen to do better last year, which we did.
“You’ve got to have a bit of good luck along the way.
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“Planning is a big thing, but I feel like the best thing about this year is that players have stepped up and done their job and coaching staff have done a great job.”
With the Origin period over, it’s not just the four players rested after game three that will return for the Panthers this weekend, but also halfback Nathan Cleary following his six-week layoff with a hamstring injury.
The injury, which came while backing up from the first Origin match, likely played a key role in the coach’s decision to rest the Origin players following the last two games in the series, although he reiterated his belief that players backing up was an outdated concept.
“[The players] would always back up,” he said.
“I didn’t ask if they wanted a rest. I just made the call and they accepted it makes sense.
“It’s a culture of Origin, backing up for your team. I think that’s a really great, noble concept, but I think it might be slightly outdated.”
The return of Nathan was originally pencilled in for the match against the Dolphins, however a lack of full-team training over the bye was enough for Ivan to take the conservative option and hold him back one more week.
“He was a bit of a cat on a hot tin roof last week. He wanted to play, but he understood the reasons why [he was rested],” the coach said.
He also joked that, “he actually added to the coaching box, finally.”
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Not that Nathan was the only Cleary joining another coach in the box, after Ivan’s surprise appearance sitting in with Brad Fittler during the third State of Origin.
He downplayed his appearance and stated that it was purely educational.
“[Fittler] just asked me and I said yes,” Cleary stated.
“We played together 25 years ago, we’ve known each other a long time. I was quite humbled to be invited in there.
“He asked me to go in and I thought there’d be some good education for me.
“Really enjoyed the night, learnt a bit myself.”