Penrith coach Cameron Ciraldo expects James Maloney to train on Wednesday despite the five-eighth struggling to turn his neck following the victory against the Warriors on Saturday night.
Maloney has been battling a neck injury for a couple of months, and a number of heavy hits against the Warriors aggravated the injury to the point where he struggled for movement after his side’s elimination final victory.
Ciraldo insists Maloney woke up on Sunday in a far better state than he was the night before and is expected to be fit to take on his old club in Friday night’s clash at Allianz Stadium.
"He looked like an old man there last night so we were a bit worried," Ciraldo said.
"But he’s pulled up really well this morning. It’s an ongoing thing for him. But he gets all his work done. Over the next 24 hours or so he should be right for our session on Wednesday.
"He was sore last week and he still did everything at training. He’s pretty tough, Jimmy."
Maloney, who may need a cortisone injection to get through next week’s game, says he’s been battling the pain for a number of weeks.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Warriors – Finals Week 1, 2018
He was crunched in mid-air by Warriors hooker Issac Luke, but insists the real damage was done off the ball in a separate incident in the second half.
"It was sweet through that [Luke tackle]," he said.
"Another time in the second half one of the blokes after I passed just knocked me in the back. A bit of whiplash stirs it up. It’s just ongoing neck. It stirs up every week. There’s not much I can do."
Maloney will square off against Matt Moylan, the player with whom he swapped jerseys in the off-season.
Moylan terrorised the Panthers the last time the two teams met, with Nathan Cleary admitting Penrith needed to be on red alert.
"I think as the year has gone on he’s improved a lot," Cleary said.
"It’s obviously hard to fit into a new system and I think he’s really found his role there. Moyza is a great player. Playing alongside him for those two years or so he plays off the cuff, you’ve always got to watch out for him because he’s prepared to play footy. We’ve got to do our best on him."
Cleary: Maloney is a warrior
Cleary and Maloney were instrumental in Penrith’s win over the Warriors, with Ciraldo describing the older playmaker’s influence on the team as like having a second coach on the field.
The NSW No.6 has taken to the leadership role since joining the Panthers and admits he’s relishing the extra responsibility.
"Since I got here at the start of the year it’s been my role," he said.
"It’s probably a big part of why they brought me out here - to help steer these young blokes around. It’s probably vital in these big games – we have all the ability and skills – it’s just making sure it’s being pushed in the right direction. We’re getting the side to take advantage of opportunities when they come up because they get fewer and fewer the further you go. If you miss them they’re gone and you miss your chance.
"It’s probably surprised me – it’s something I’ve never had any ambition to do. But since I got out here just naturally understood what I needed to do. The boys just soak up everything you talk to them about. They’re such a young good group of kids that have so much potential. Something I’m really enjoying."
He has always been renowned as the larrikin in the group, but things have changed somewhat at Penrith.
"I still try and have fun and enjoy what we’re doing," Maloney said.
"I’ve probably just grown with the leadership and understanding the little intricacies that go with it. You can’t stuff around all the time and then ask the boys to be on song. You need to lead by example. A little bits of me [have changed], but I still try and have a good time."