Panthers premiership hero Nathan Cleary has stated that he is desperate to line up for the Mountain Men when they face Manly to open their 2022 season.
According to reports from Christian Nicolussi of The Sydney Morning Herald, the Dally M winning halfback was previously tipped to miss the first fortnight of Penrith's premiership defense, but after holding up at training, this return date could well be brought forward.
Having undergone Laterjet surgery that has a 90 per cent success rate of halting dislocations per Nicolussi's report, the 24-year-old has been put through his paces on the training track.
Despite reportedly being tackled and dropped in numerous compromising positions across the pre-season, Cleary has passed each scheduled test with flying colours.
Having completed these sessions at an 80 per cent rate of intensity, the Clive Churchill medallist stated he feels he is ready to rip in against the Sea Eagles on Thursday, March 10 at BlueBet Stadium.
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“I’m not a very good watcher – I don’t like watching much – and being a Thursday night out here, and our first game of the season, I’d definitely love to be out there,” Cleary divulged.
The premier playmaker also explained what his recent rehabilitation block had entailed.
“I want to be confident with the shoulder and not worry about it when I’m out on the field," Cleary continued. I can do most things. I’ve been lifting weights, I’m on the field every session and now it’s just the contact.”
While there is still water to run under the proverbial bridge across the next month, Penrith's physiotherapist Pete Green suggested the odds were in Cleary's favour to take the field in early March.
“He’s certainly a chance to be ready for Round 1,” Green said.
“The next three to four weeks will be a combination of getting confidence in the shoulder by returning to all of his contact and wrestle training. He will take it from being in a controlled environment to going full pelt."
Despite stressing the Round 1 return date had not been the club's original call, the physio delineated further just how much work the representative halfback had taken on this summer.
“We banked on him returning by Round 3, just to give him that extra time because he’s young and still has his whole career ahead of him. But he’s done so well the last month, he’s put himself right in the frame for that first game," Green continued.
“Nathan does all his team skills and opposed sessions in a red bib. He’s getting a few bumps and hit from front on. He’s also been falling a lot and getting knocked over, which we did a ton of before his surgery, just to get him to react and land on his shoulder in different ways.
“He’s had a lot of heavy-duty falls the past fortnight and he’s done well. He’ll run plays and then get caught up with a few bodies. Nathan then has to work out whether to land on his left or right shoulder, to put the arm out or tuck it under and roll.”
Penrith's season opener against Manly will act as the first time since the Panther's 14-20 Round 1 loss against Newcastle in 2004 that the club has entered an NRL season as reigning premiers.
Given the magnitude of this upcoming date against the preliminary finalists from the northern beaches, the battle on their home patch is almost certain to near sell-out status, unless, of course, Covid has other ideas.