NRL Podcast: Cleary's return will complete Penrith's perfect storm
Former Penrith Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward has shut down suggestions the club's fortunes will spiral south when Nathan Cleary returns from a knee injury.
The Panthers are purring in second spot on the NRL ladder – but there are fears Cleary's return in the next three weeks could have a negative effect on the team's attack.
"It's going to be the perfect storm for the Penrith Panthers," Soward told the NRL Podcast.
"They get Nathan Cleary - who's going to be the New South Wales and Australian halfback for the next 10 years – come back in.
"They're gritty, they've had injuries but they're still winning and James Maloney has taken ownership of the team and everyone is following his directions."
Maloney has thrived in the young halfback's absence since round three and some critics believe the pair will struggle to gel and lack cohesion – like North Queensland Cowboys' halves pairing of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan.
"There's no pressure on him (Cleary)," Soward said.
"We know how good he is.
"He'll be allowed that freedom to work his way back in. There won't be the pressure of 'well you've lost seven of eight without Cleary – is he the saviour?'"
Soward's appraisal of Cleary came as he analysed the performances of other halves pairings and gave reasons why some combinations are firing and why others are failing.
The 2010 Telstra Premiership winner also outlined the missing link for eight NRL teams and who he would recruit ahead of the June 30 transfer deadline.