Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary expects nothing but further improvement from his side against Canberra on Sunday with higher honours up for grabs for several Panthers players leading into the representative period.

The Panthers fell short in their four-point defeat to South Sydney last start but produced arguably their best 80-minute performance of the season.

An away trip to Wagga Wagga on Sunday will act as a "must win" for the side if they want to keep their top-four aspirations alive.

Cleary was non-committal when discussing the side's current ladder aspirations with a focus on securing two competition points on Sunday.

"I'm not going into that too much but obviously the further you go into the season the more wins you want on the board," Cleary said.

"We're certainly aware of that. I thought we definitely made some strides last week. We played better and got some confidence and belief out of them.

"We've got to back up what we did last week and turn that performance into a win."

Penrith are expected to have several players in action during the representative period regardless of whether incumbent Blues halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are retained for the Origin series.

The likes of Kiwis Test captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare and James Fisher-Harris are on the verge of selection for New Zealand, while Viliame Kikau, Waqa Blake (both Fiji), Sione Katoa (Tonga) and Jarome Luai (Samoa) could all play for their countries.

"There's more rep games than ever so you have a plan for how it may look, otherwise you'll get skinned," Cleary said.

"Hopefully we can get as many players as we can in because it means they're playing well. All our boys do is try their best for the Panthers and if they do that they give themselves a chance."

Cleary will return to Wagga Wagga's McDonalds Park on Sunday for a premiership match for the first time in 11 years and has already experienced true highs and lows at the venue in his time as a player.

Cleary scored a hat-trick and kicked five goals against the Gold Coast Chargers in round 23, 1998, but felt the emotional rollercoaster of rugby league six months later when he dislocated a hip playing in a trial game at the same venue.

"Those sorts of things didn't happen too often so yeah, I remember that game," Cleary smiled when asked about his three-try heroics.

"Wagga is a big sport town and I hope the locals get behind it. There is so much work that must go behind the scenes for this big occasion. As soon as you get there you can feel it. It's not who you talk to but the vibe around town.

"You can only imagine they're all scurrying around making sure it's going to be a great day and I'm sure it's going to be. I'm a fan of going to country venues. It's a good initiative and hats off to the Raiders for this week.

"I feel like our boys understand the responsibility we have with that as well."