Cleary and Maloney show positive signs in reunion
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary made a successful return from a knee injury on Thursday night in positive signs for both the high-flying club and his State of Origin credentials.
After his side's 16-2 win over the Wests Tigers, Cleary said his return went off without a hitch.
"It felt really good, it has been hard watching for eight weeks, so to finally get out there, it's the best feeling," Cleary said.
"That was probably the most pleasing [thing], I didn't think about the knee once I got into the game and I'm happy with it pulled up."
Cleary's return also provided some added hope for Blues fans.
He and fellow NSW hopeful James Maloney showed enough poise to suggest the club pairing may also end up in the NSW number six and seven jerseys for the series opener at the MCG on June 6.
Cleary will need to impress in next week's top of the table clash against the Dragons to put himself right in the mix - not that the 20-year-old is giving it much thought.
"The only talk around it has been the media," Cleary said.
"I haven't thought about it too much and have been focused on rehab and running to get back playing footy with my best mates."
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin was pleased with how the Cleary-Maloney combination performed.
"I thought it was a really good solid 80 minutes for him," Griffin said of Cleary.
"It's hard coming back after being out for eight weeks. I thought he did a great job. His kicking game was good, he made a few half breaks was strong in defence.
"I thought he [Maloney] was good, he controlled the game for us.
"It helped him having Nathan back there, took a little bit more pressure off him. It's a work in progress, half partnerships just don't work overnight."
Griffin said the runs of penalties both sides enjoyed throughout the match made it a stop-start affair.
"There wasn't [a whole lot of flow], unfortunately that's how the game is refereed at the moment," Griffin said.
"There's a lot more positives. They play for each other, we got over the line three times and should've scored two of them.
"We never gave them a sniff. The pleasing thing was the control and defensive aspect of our game."