With the minor premiership on the line on Saturday night against the Cowboys, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is keen to bring the J. J. Giltinan Shield back to Penrith for the third time in the past four seasons.
Heading into the final home and away game at BlueBet Stadium, the Panthers only need to win to finish top of the table, following Brisbane’s loss against Melbourne on Thursday night.
Although keen to claim the minor premiership, Cleary made mention of the fact that the title doesn’t offer much more to teams than finishing second does.
“Top two is the main [target],” Cleary said.
“I think [the minor premiership] is important. The fact that it’s back on the table is quite cool.
“It’s something about finishing at the top that you should be proud of. It’s also a trophy and obviously financially good for the club.
“It definitely matters, but it may not count.”
Cleary gets behind Jersey Day
As the only team in the top 4 not resting players, the Panthers announced their intentions for round 27 from the start of the week, benefitting with the Broncos loss.
Not that Cleary would have changed his plans had that result gone the other way.
“It doesn’t really change what we were doing this week and our motivation or anything,” he said about the possibility of winning the minor premiership.
“I don’t like to change things halfway through a week, so it only confirmed what we were going to do anyway. We’re still preparing to be at our best when the pressure is on and I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Dylan Edwards locked in
Even though the Panthers aren’t resting anybody for the match, the likes of Mitch Kenny, Izack Tago and Jarome Luai are all out injured.
Cleary said he was confident Kenny and Tago would be ready to go come finals, while also noting that Luai’s recovery was beginning on the right foot.
“Spirits are good,” he said of Luai.
“He’s just started the journey with 1000 steps.
“He’s determined [to get back], but we’ll have to wait and see to work out how he’s going to go. But one thing’s for sure, he’ll do everything he can.”
With Luai out, it leaves Jack Cogger to fill the hole at five-eighth. Cleary was also quick to praise Luai’s willingness to help Cogger and Nathan Cleary’s partnership to quickly gel.
“It’s quite a big deal for him and he’s just sort of trying to get over it,” he added.
“Jack Cogger’s seamlessly come back in and he’s been in the team anyway. So he’s probably been working more with Nat than anyone, just trying to work out how that combination is going to go.
“‘Romey’ is like all our players. If they’re not playing, they’re super supportive, and he’ll be doing everything he can to help us.”