‘He was always going to play’: Luai will return for Penrith

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Penrith’s star playmaker Jarome Luai has overcome a dislocated shoulder and will play against Melbourne in Friday night’s preliminary final.

Coach Ivan Cleary declared on Thursday morning his NSW Origin and Samoan international would play as his side make their bid for a fourth straight grand final appearance.

There were doubts Luai would be back at all this season after he landed awkwardly on his left shoulder against Parramatta last month. Phil Gould said at the start of the week the chances of Luai returning against the Storm were “one million to one”.

But Cleary said Luai got through what he needed to do on Wednesday, and his return, along with centre Izack Tago (pectoral), is a timely boost.

Once the scans came back the day after the injury, the Panthers medical staff targeted the preliminary final as a realistic comeback game – it was just a matter of the premiers reaching week three of the finals.

“He was always going to play – this has been coming for four weeks,” Cleary said.

I’m back, baby: Jarome Luai will play against MelbourneCredit: Getty

“I’ve seen a lot of guys at this club do some pretty amazing things. From the first moment we got the information [on the scans], our medical staff were really confident – he was very confident – and he’s put his head down and worked hard.

“He’s ticked every box this week, and we look forward to having him back in the team. [The final say] wasn’t left to him, but he’s obviously got a big say in it. He’s trained with us for two weeks.

“He’s a big part of our team, not just the way he plays but the way he connects people around him, and he brings energy to our boys. Everyone is pretty excited.”

When asked how much he expected Melbourne to target Luai and his suspect shoulder, Cleary smiled and said: “Probably a fair bit. He’s a big boy. He’ll be right.”

Cleary also said there were some anxious moments when his son, co-captain and halfback Nathan Cleary, was rushed to hospital on Monday with a finger injury. It has since emerged Cleary suffered a dislocated finger, but he was back completing gym work and ball skills that afternoon.

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