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Nathan Cleary eyes off round one NRL return following off-season shoulder surgery

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As the Penrith Panthers chase back-to-back premierships for the first time in the club’s history, there was concern star halfback Nathan Cleary wouldn’t be around to help kick off the 2022 season.

The captain had shoulder surgery in the off-season and Penrith’s medical staff were anticipating his return to the field in round three or later.

But Cleary is itching to join his teammates from the season opener in pursuit of another title.

“I’m hoping to be out there for round one, a big occasion at home Thursday night against Manly who are a great team, so that’s the plan at the moment,” Cleary said. 

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“There’s not much [doubt] I still have two weeks to go, that’ll be an important two weeks but it’s feeling good at the moment.

Can the Panthers do it all again in 2022?(AAP: Dave Hunt)

“I am tackling and have started moderate contact and hope to be doing the full team stuff next week.”

“I just need to have confidence in it, I don’t want to be putting myself out there too early and be letting the team down – that’s the biggest thing.”

Cleary will have the final say as to when he takes the field but will be taking advice from his medical team.

His halves partner, Jarome Luai is impressed with his teammate’s comeback.

“Nathan’s progressed really well, we aren’t looking after him on the field, so good signs from him, hope we get him round one, he’s one of the best in the game,” Luai said. 

Rugby league player running the ball with opposition player in front of him
Nathan Cleary will once again be key to Penrith’s premiership hopes. (Getty: Chris Hyde)

If the Panthers are without their skipper they’ve got a handy replacement in their ranks in new recruit Sean O’Sullivan.

It’s somewhat of a homecoming for the playmaker – he began his career at the foot of the mountains before stints at the Roosters, Broncos and Warriors and was among Penrith’s best in their 34-6 trial win over Cronulla. 

“I can’t speak highly enough of Seany, he’s got a great footy brain on him, he’s fit in really well, has really impressed us and played a great game on the weekend,” Cleary said.

Luai is also a fan and boasts plenty of experience playing alongside O’Sullivan.

“I played in high school with him (Sean) and so did a lot of the boys, we got beaten in the grand final though,” Luai said. 

Can the Panthers clinch consecutive premierships with a whole new roster?

The skipper believes his side can, but concedes it will not be easy.

“It’s a big shame to lose the people we have, like Matt Burton and Kurt Capewell, they were a huge part of this team, it’s tough,” Cleary said.

Other big names to depart were Tyrone May, Paul Momirovski, Brent Naden and Tevita Pangai Jnr.

However, a crop of youthful players has joined the squad including 19-year old Izack Tago and son of Panthers legend Mark Geyer, Mavrick. 

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