Cleary's knee still an issue but Panthers star kicking on
Nathan Cleary said the knee injury he suffered in March continues to linger but says the injury is not hampering his performance heading into Friday night's semi-final clash with Cronulla at Allianz Stadium.
Cleary injured his medial cruciate ligament against the Bulldogs in round three but returned before the Holden State of Origin series to help guide NSW to a series victory.
He self-admittedly struggled post-Origin and is his goal-kicking sits at 76.6 per cent in 2018, down on last year's 90.2 per cent. The form of James Maloney will allow Cleary to play a calming role against former teammate Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend in the elimination clash.
"It's probably not 100 per cent but it doesn't hold me back in a game," Cleary said of his injury.
"It's more a precaution until the end of the year. Hopefully next year it's all sweet."
Cleary is set to be in Australia coach Mal Meninga's plans for the upcoming Test matches in late October and said surgery was unlikely when Penrith's campaign came to an end, opening the door for a possible international debut.
"If that was to come I'd be really stoked but haven't thought about it," Cleary said.
"No surgery, fingers crossed it gets through the end of the year and rest will probably help it more than anything.
"It's just that time of the year, the beauty of finals you get up for each game."
Cleary said he had learned from the club's past two finals campaigns where Penrith were unable to get past week the semi-final rounds.
He credited his Origin experience alongside James Maloney for helping him make a career progression in big matches.
"In the last two years I've fallen into the trap where I'm happy to be there and experience it," Cleary said.
"This year is definitely about taking it a step further and get through this second week. Playing in those big games has definitely helped. Being outside Jimmy helps as well.
"I think it's probably staying patient more than anything. There's not a lot of points in the tight finals games and Origin. If something doesn't come off the first time, just to stick with it and trust that will come later when fatigue sets in.
"You don't get as many opportunities so when they arise you've got to take it with both hands."
Meanwhile, former Shark Ben Ross and ex-Panther Frank Puletua have agreed to a bet with a difference ahead of the meeting of their former teams in an elimination final on Friday night.
The loser has agreed to swim with sharks at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium's Shark Dive Xtreme.
Experience the excitement of Finals footy this weekend. Get your tickets to week 2 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series