Origin period helps Penrith
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary went to bed on Origin night knowing he'd wake up the next morning with a healthy squad – and he certainly planned for it.
While his Eels counterpart Brad Arthur agonises over a decision to ask NSW hero Jarryd Hayne to back up 48 hours after his Man of the Match performance against Queensland on Wednesday night, Cleary's only headache is which players to leave out of his full-strength squad.
"Health's always a relative term in the NRL, but we're having a few guys back," Cleary said on Thursday.
"It's a long, hard season – we're not even halfway through yet. Everyone will go through their injury issues and certainly the teams with a lot of Origin players, it just shows last night how tough this period is for those guys."
Cleary admits the brutality of the Origin period – which, after one game, could see up to 10 players out of action this weekend due to injury, suspension or rest – has been a key component in the club's recruitment strategy over the past few years.
"You think about it, but the guys that are in Origin are in there for a reason – because they're good players. You also want your good players too," he said.
"It's moreso around the depth around that. If those guys are missing, making sure you've got adequate cover."
Penrith and the Warriors were the only two clubs without a representative at Suncorp on Wednesday night, and the former Warriors coach sympathised with clubs like Melbourne, who have lost arguably their most significant player in Cooper Cronk for a possible three months.
Cleary believes the high number of casualties will only invite louder calls for stand-alone Origin games.
"[Origin] isn't necessarily a bit part of [recruitment]. You always see some of the sides that have got some New Zealanders sprinkled in there... especially the good players, it's starting to become an issue," he said.
"The bigger issue it becomes, then that surely must make us, as a game, start thinking more about standalone weekends.
"I don't know what the reporting is out of last night, but if you're talking brutality, it's just harder and harder for these guys to continually back up. And the teams that do, it's just luck of the draw with who you get to play in this period, and who out and who's in. And I think that's unfair, too."
Second-rowers Elijah Taylor and Lewis Brown were named to return from injury for tomorrow night's clash against neighbourhood rivals Parramatta, while Cleary said co-captain Kevin Kingston and prop Nigel Plum were a chance to be late inclusions.
A crowd in excess of 18,000 is expected at Sportingbet Stadium, with the club announcing that reserved seats had just about sold out.
"It's going to be the biggest crowd we've had since I've been here. It's good for both clubs. Definitely everyone's looking forward to it," Cleary said.
Parramatta slapped Penrith with a 32-16 defeat back in Round 3, but the Panthers coach said his side was ready for what he described as one of the form teams in the competition.
"They were too good for us that day. It was one of two games this year that I've been disappointed with our performance – probably not so much our effort, but our focus wasn't quite on that day," he said.
"So we know what to expect. They've shown also since then, that they should be respected as one of the form teams of the comp and that's the way we're going about it."