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Penrith prop Tim Grant says the Panthers are using suspended captain Petero Civoniceva as motivation to continue their winning run and lock up a top-four berth when they host Cronulla at CUA Stadium tomorrow night.

Civoniceva was ousted for two games during the week following his high tackle on Canterbury forward Gary Warburton last Monday night and will miss the first week of the finals – Penrith’s first semi-final appearance since they came within one game of the 2004 grand final.

But Grant said it would be an injustice for their captain to miss out come the business end of the season, with the Panthers’ forwards determined to step up in his absence.

“That’s definitely something we want to achieve – we want to do it for ‘Pet’,” Grant said. “He’d love to be out on the field with us, but that’s out of his control.

“We just have to win games to give him another opportunity to compete because that’s what he deserves and we need him there with us.

“That means there is a bit more responsibility on everyone but the other boys in the pack have done a great job all season and hopefully they can continue that form.

“Guys like Matty Bell have sort of gone along unnoticed but they’ve been tremendous for us.”

While Civoniceva will be sorely missed over the coming weeks, his absence is offset somewhat by the return of Grant tomorrow night.

The 22-year-old has been sidelined since injuring his ankle in Round 17 but told that the break had done him the world of good.

“I’m all good and ready to go,” he said. “It’s a really tough competition and you need to look after your body to get through it but I think the injury freshened me up… I feel full of energy.”

One of the Panthers’ form players before being sidelined, Grant has had to watch from the stands as the side suffered a mid-season form slump that saw them lose five games in six outings before notching wins over South Sydney and the Bulldogs over the past two weeks.

But although questions still linger following last week’s fortuitous win – in which they trailed Canterbury 16-0 after just 14 minutes, the young prop insisted the Penrith are in good shape to launch a genuine premiership tilt.

“Obviously last week wasn’t one of our best games but we got a lot of confidence from the way we finished,” he said.

“I think that having confidence is the key – when you’re confident that’s what counts come semi-finals time.

“We probably lost it there for a while and we didn’t have much luck either (during their losing streak).

“But you can’t play your best footy for 26 weeks and hopefully we’re hitting form again at the right time of the year going into the semis.

“I think we’re as good a chance as anyone else in the comp.”

The Panthers will head into tomorrow’s clash with Cronulla as strong favourites, but Grant said he expected a semi-final style grind against a forward pack that has finally started to flex its muscle in recent weeks.

“They gave us a good game down at Shark Park earlier in the season and I expect nothing less from them again,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a bit of a grind again. They’ve got a good pack but we’re ready for them.”

Late NRL news:
Brisbane received some much-needed good news yesterday when halfback Peter Wallace – who injured his shoulder against the Warriors last week – declared himself a certain starter for tonight’s must-win game against Canberra. However, they will still be without the services of captain Darren Lockyer.

The Gold Coast welcome back Anthony Laffranchi from a shoulder injury for tonight’s clash with Wests Tigers but will be without prop Luke Bailey who has a badly broken thumb, while Mat Rogers is in doubt with hip flexor complaint.

The Tigers’ injury woes have continued, with centre Geoff Daniela ruled out tonight because of a hamstring strain. Rookie Sean Meaney comes into the side.

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