Panthers players said a pact to prioritise the team ahead of personal pain and injury was a major factor in their premiership success, after revelations from coach Ivan Cleary that fullback Dylan Edwards played the grand final with a broken foot.
Many grand finals feature a heroic story of a player ignoring the pain of a major injury but in Penrith’s case it was a matter of picking which story, with multiple players busted and broken.
Cleary revealed the true extent of the side’s injury woes after their 14-12 win against the Rabbitohs and admitted there were five players who realistically shouldn’t have been out on the field Sunday night.
Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota and Edwards were all under an injury cloud throughout the finals series, but made a pact to put their bodies on the line to give their side the best chance at a premiership.
Edwards had worn a moonboot for most of the past month – outside games – after injuring his right foot in the final game of the regular season. The club played down the injury last week but the fullback admitted after the grand final he had ‘a couple of little fractures’ that could have ended his season.
Dylan Edwards runs the ball into traffic … with a broken foot.Credit:Getty
But after taking the first week of finals off, Edwards said he couldn’t bear to watch from the sidelines.
“It’s all right, it’s just a couple of little fractures, I suppose. The club’s been managing it really well,” he said about the injury, which came from a build-up of load across the 2021 season.
Edwards said the spirit and collective adversity of his team pushed him through the injury.
“You got 16 other blokes out there willing to put their body on the line, so you’ve just got to put your body on the line and try and get the job done. You’ve just got to give yourself to the team,” he said.
James Fisher-Harris had major knee issues leading up to the grand final.Credit:Getty
“You just look at the person next to you battling things you don’t know about or they’ve got injuries that you don’t know about, you’ve just got to do what you can do and do your best for the team.”
Along with Edward’s fractured foot, Cleary went through the finals with a torn shoulder tendon that will require surgery, while Fisher-Harris was suffering from a knee injury which would have normally sidelined him for several weeks.
Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, James Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota and Edwards were all under an injury cloud throughout the finals series, but made a collective pact to put their bodies on the line to give their side the best chance at a premiership.Credit:Getty
Leota was dealing with a strained calf, while To’o was struggling with lingering syndesmosis issues, which saw him miss most of the Panthers’ training sessions for the last two weeks.
To’o said all five of them bought into the motto of all pushing through injury.
“The boys pushed for each other,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re body is broken or not you are still going to play for the boys and get us to where we need to be.”
The coach described playing all five injured players as a “calculated risk”.
“I don’t say that lightly. “I actually woke up at 2am this morning and I couldn’t get back to sleep because I was thinking ’my god, honestly three or four of them could be gone by 10 minutes [into the game],” he said.
“I just can’t rap the boys enough. The courage that these boys have shown, we really couldn’t train the last three weeks as a team, so many guys not training… I think it’s purely on courage that these boys have won this,” Cleary said.
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