Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary says halfback Peter Wallace's effort to play through a snapped cruciate in last week's defeat to Cronulla was "one of the bravest things I've seen".
Wallace was ruled out for the season midweek after scans revealed he came off with a busted knee in the first half of the game in Bathurst last Saturday, but returned after half-time to finish the game.
And while Cleary was reluctant to give too much away about first-gamer Will Smith, he lavished praise on Wallace's incredible courage.
"I guess if you're looking for one moment in what we're trying to do here at the Panthers, the effort of our captain last week – he was already playing on one leg, he came back three weeks early from an ankle and knee injury and then to snap his cruciate in his other knee, come back on, not only play but set up tries and save them – you just can't buy things like that," Cleary said on Thursday morning.
"For all our guys to experience that and see that... wins and losses come and go, but those things stay in the wood I guess, and in this club. It's another step to know that we're going in the right direction."
Ahead of tomorrow night's clash against the Bulldogs, Cleary believed it was the kind of performance that would inspire the rest of his team as they enter the final six weeks of the competition.
"Well I hope it's something that's spoken about for years to come and everybody that pulls on a Panthers jersey can appreciate those sorts of efforts," he said.
"[It's] just amazing, and whilst he won't be with us again for this year, that effort alone I'm sure will inspire plenty of others for the rest of the year.
"Everybody that I spoke to about Peter, the word 'tough' came into the review. When someone like Darren Lockyer praises someone for being tough, that's pretty high praise indeed. He just showed it on the weekend. It was one of the bravest things I've seen."
Wallace's place in the halves alongside Jamie Soward will be taken by 22-year-old playmaker Will Smith this week, but the former Warriors coach was giving nothing away about the Newcastle junior.
"You know what, I think I'm just going to let the game decide. Everyone can watch the game, and make a read on him there," he said.
"There's no point in me going through that at the moment. The only point I want to make is that we're very confident and he's ready to play."
With returning wingers Josh Mansour and David Simmons completing the team's final training run, Cleary also heaped praise on Friday night's opponents Canterbury-Bankstown, labelling them a club the Panthers wanted to emulate.
"The Bulldogs are an outstanding club, a club steeped in tradition, a tradition of success, and it's the sort of club we look up to try and emulate," he said.
"So to get a chance to play against them on their home ground on a big occasion, it's exciting and something we've actually earned the right to do so looking forward to it."