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Panthers props discuss the return of Luai, Tago

It’s business as usual for the Penrith Panthers ahead of Friday night’s preliminary final at Accor Stadium.

Aiming for their fourth grand final appearance in as many years when they take on the Melbourne Storm, the Panthers have kept things pretty simple since their victory over the Warriors in the qualifying final two weeks ago.

With injured duo Izack Tago and Jarome Luai confirmed to play, the Panthers are looking like having their strongest side on the field for the first time in nearly four months, in what would be a big boost for the side.

While he’s hopeful of having Tago and Luai back on the paddock for the preliminary final, prop James Fisher-Harris also praised the players who have filled the void in the club’s next-man-up mentality.

“I can’t remember when we had a full-strength team, so I think it’s just become normal for us,” Fisher-Harris said.

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“That next man up sort of thing, fingers crossed that the boys will be there. It’s a bonus for us [if they play].

“Doesn’t matter who you are, you put the jersey on and you’ve got a job to do.”

Lindsay Smith shared similar thoughts to Fisher-Harris, who said it would be a huge lift for the side if Luai and Tago were available.

“[Luai] is one of the best players in the game I believe,” Smith said.

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“Hopefully he’s ready to go and if he is I know he’ll be there 100% and I’d love nothing more than to play alongside him.”

It’s already been a big week for Smith, following the announcement of a contract extension through to the end of 2026.

A grand final appearance would cap a magnificent breakout season for the 23-year-old local junior, who has locked down a bench spot in Ivan Cleary’s side in 2023, having entered the season with four first grade appearances since debuting in 2021.

Smith praised the club and coaching staff, saying he was always keen to stay at Penrith, having persevered to get his spot in the side.

“It’s a pretty special environment,” he said of the club.

“It’s challenging at times, but you put faith in the coaching staff and their system and what they see in the future. If you just put trust in that and in such a great system like this, I guess the rewards eventually come.

“It’s just about waiting and learning from the outstanding players in front of you.”

Moses Leota praised Smith, saying it was only a matter of time before he got his opportunity.

“‘Larry’ has got all the attributes,” Leota said.

“I’ve seen him grow for the last few years and I always knew he was going to get a crack soon and do well. It’s good to see him playing well this year.

“He’s very tall. I think once he fills out, he should be a great impact player.

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.