Ongoing ‘major injuries’ are throwing a spanner in the works for Penrith coach Ivan Cleary as he needs to rest his players ahead of the finals, which makes his choice of team for the ultimate round of the regular season a big question mark.
Izack Tago, Mitch Kenny and Scott Sorensen, all premiership players, will miss Penrith’s upcoming home game against Parramatta on Thursday, but Cleary welcomes back Brian To’o, insisting they’ll field a full-strength side by the time the finals roll out.
Kenny and Sorensen were also notably absent during the huge victory over the Gold Coast last week, while Tago misses his sixth straight match due to a knee injury, just a fortnight ahead of the finals.
Cleary’s tactic of giving his main Penrith lineup a rest in the final game before the finals last season, was a huge success, contributing to their Grand Final victory. During Penrith’s successful run over the past three seasons, that strategy bagged them two minor premierships and back-to-back Grand Final wins.
However, Cleary freely admits that planning for the final fortnight of the season has been disrupted by these injuries, crucial enough to affect the lineup, especially with another game at the end of the week against the Cowboys, after their clash with the Eels.
“They are relatively serious injuries. They are not fit enough to play,” the coach stated. “Perhaps under Grand Final circumstances, they could push through, but at present, our focus is to get them in top shape to play.”
However, Cleary’s ultimate goal is achieving a third consecutive NRL title. Even though he doesn’t want to “anticipate too far into the future”, he’s still fine-tuning how to have his players performing at their peak during the finals.
“We have had a blueprint for some time but it seems that every week, there’s a curveball,” Cleary said. “We’ve been grappling with minor setbacks and the odd injury here and there, so I’m not looking too far ahead at this point.”
Cleary expresses his surefire faith, though, that Tago, Sorensen and Kenny would all bounce back in time to compete in the finals, which kicks off in the second week of September.
“At this stage, I am confident,” Cleary asserted. “Most of the injuries are relatively manageable, they should all be okay.”