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Panthers set to rest but Luai keen to play

Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai will be putting his hand up for selection as coach Ivan Cleary ponders which star Panthers to rest in the final game before the 2022 finals series.

In 2021, the race for the minor premiership stretched into the last week of the season but given Penrith have already secured top spot this time around, Cleary has begun giving key players time off.

Second-rower Liam Martin was rested for Friday night’s 46-12 defeat of the Warriors, while hooker Api Koroisau took an early mark after tweaking his ankle.

The Panthers face possible finals opponents North Queensland in their last regular season game next Saturday but Cleary has already hinted that he will field an understrength side.

Koroisau, Isaah Yeo, Viliame Kikau and Dylan Edwards are among the Penrith work horses who are a chance to sit out.

“I’ve got a few plans,” Cleary said.

“But we’ll just see how everyone pulls up when we review this game and make a decision early next week.”

In the interest of making the long trip as smooth as possible, the Panthers will take a private chartered flight to Townsville.

Inexperienced first-graders Eddie Blacker, Sunia Turuva, Thomas Jenkins and Mavrik Geyer, son of club legend Mark, are among those with a chance to earn boarding passes.

Luai, who played his first game back from a knee injury on Friday, could well join the young Panthers in the check-in queue.

“I want to play every week. If the body is right I’m putting my hand up to play,” he told reporters.

“I’ll be back in Iv’s office this week letting him know I’m sweet to play.”

Luai’s running game is the most striking feature of his contribution and he was uninhibited by his knee injury in the match against the Warriors.

“I felt really good,” he said.

“I was really confident throughout the week and got a lot of reps and the boys tested me pretty hard at training.

“I’m fresh, I took it as a bit of a blessing in disguise that I got a couple of weeks off.”

Luai said his latest injury was worse than the knee complaint that ruled him out of the third State of Origin game last year.

“I completely tore it this time (but) I wasn’t nervous,” he said.

“My missus was cooking me nice food at home so that might’ve helped.

“I’m a pretty quick healer. I’m just grateful to get back on the field and have a game with the boys.”

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