South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou suspects Penrith have kept Nathan Cleary on ice since undergoing off-season shoulder surgery with Friday’s grand-final rematch in mind.
Demetriou is hoping his own superstar Latrell Mitchell will get the all-clear after receiving treatment on his knee towards the end of the Rabbitohs’ training session on Thursday.
After beginning his NRL coaching career with losses to Brisbane and Melbourne, Demetriou got the win he desired over the Sydney Roosters last week.
His side must now head to Penrith on Friday for a grand-final rematch with the Panthers, who welcome back their halfback.
Cleary was put through his paces by Panthers prop James Fisher-Harris this week in preparation for an onslaught from Souths forwards, but Demetriou expected the halfback to come out firing.
“Yeah, he’s alright. Is he back, is he? ” Demetriou said with a grin.
“I do (expect him to hit the ground running), he’s got himself in a position to go and he’s given himself that extra time on the training field.
“Match fitness will always take a few weeks but he’s a pretty fit bloke.
“We expect them to be at their best, I’ve no doubt about that.
“Cleary is coming back for a reason in this game and they’ll be ready for us when we get there.”
Demetriou was also confident Mitchell would be good to go after copping a bang to his knee during the club’s captain’s run.
The fullback missed the grand final with suspension and the first-year NRL coach said he wouldn’t be using that defeat as motivation on Friday.
“I’m not somebody who looks back too much,” he said.
“Obviously, we learnt some lessons from the grand final in terms of how we combat what Penrith do and what they do to every team.
“But for us, it’s about building off last week and we’re going to have to go one better this week.”
Penrith struggled without Cleary last year but have started the season with three wins in his absence.
Souths have vowed to send plenty of traffic his way, but Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said there were no lingering concerns over his son’s fitness.
“It’s good to have him back,” he said.
“He’s very detailed in how he does stuff and he’s done a lot of reps. He’s mostly been running with our second team against us.
“We’re confident Nat can play and we’ve held him back more than anything. He’ll be trying to find his groove but we’re confident he’ll be fine.”