Peachey switch may be one-off as Maloney nears return
Even though the Tyrone Peachey to fullback experiment is on ice, don't expect the versatile State of Origin representative to play anything like a traditional halves role now he's back at five-eighth.
Penrith caretaker coach Cameron Ciraldo wants Peachey to play his natural game irrespective of his jersey number as the Panthers seek to firm up their top-four bid and keep the Warriors sweating on their own playoff fate in Auckland on Friday night.
Peachey has worn the No.1 jersey for the past four rounds but Ciraldo has rung the changes after the Panthers were lucky to edge the Titans by a point in his first match in charge following the abrupt sacking of Anthony Griffin, before being upset 20-12 by the out-of-contention Knights last weekend.
With Blues teammate James Maloney still sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the win over the Titians, Peachey will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves at Mt Smart Stadium with Tyrone May back on the bench and Kiwis flyer Dallin Watene-Zelezniak shifting to fullback.
"I'm just expecting him to play his natural game," said Ciraldo after being asked what he envisages from the 27-year-old, Titans-bound Peachey.
"We don't want him to play like a traditional five-eighth [does] these days, we just want him to play his game and that might be more like another lock forward or something like that.
"Putting Dallin at fullback, we just thought we needed his experience back there this week and that sort of pushed Peach back to five-eighth where he played a lot of footy at the start of the year and he doesn't mind where he plays, Peach, he's really good in that way. We just want him to bring his best game tomorrow night."
Where he slots into the line-up beyond Friday night remains a mystery with Ciraldo indicating Maloney was likely to be back for the Panthers' final regular-season start away to Melbourne.
"Yeah, he's a big chance next week. He's stayed back home and done some training this week and he's looking good for next week."
Ciraldo went into bat for Cleary whose form has been topsy-turvy of late, and especially since his father, former Warriors and current Wests Tigers mentor Ivan, was linked to the Panthers job.
"He won us the game up at the Titans, it probably wasn't his best game, but he won us the game and for a halfback to do that, after the pressure he's been under, shows his maturity.
"Before that, there was a number of good signs in his game. His running game was back to where we wanted it, his defence has never been a problem so there's a lot of good things in Nathan's game at the moment. There's some things he wants to improve on. He'll do that."
The Warriors have their own five-eighth dilemma with Blake Green scratched with a calf injury, offering the Panthers the opportunity to target inexperienced Mason Lino.
Ciraldo defended the shuffling of his pack for the Warriors clash with Wayde Egan to start at hooker for Sione Katoa and James Fisher-Harris (shoulder) returning at lock, pushing Corey Harawira-Naera to the bench and Kaide Ellis to the reserves like Katoa. Christian Crichton has also been recalled on the wing as the Panthers look for a repeat of their 36-4 round-17 win over the eighth-placed Warriors.
He is looking for big things from Viliame Kikau after the giant second-rower touched down in Auckland with the Panthers on Wednesday night, the visa issues surrounding the Fijian sorted.
"Just get him in the game," said Ciraldo when asked how to get the best out of Kikau who has scored five tries and averaged 13 hit-ups and 130 running metres in 2018.
Have teams started targeting him more in recent weeks?
"It's hard to say. Our whole team hasn't played to the best of our ability the last few weeks so I don't think it's got anything to do with Villy."