Nathan Cleary hopes his good friend Tyrone May is back on the field this year believing his versatility will go a long way to Penrith having a prosperous 2020 campaign.
"That's obviously my main goal," Cleary said on Wednesday of May's anticipated return to the NRL following a year out of the game after he pleaded guilty to four charges of intentionally recording an intimate image without consent.
The 23-year-old is due to appear in Penrith Local Court on Friday for sentencing.
When news of the scandal broke a year ago, leading to police charges, the NRL applied its no-fault stand down rule to May.
The NRL will await the court's decision this week before deciding whether the Samoan international should face any further sanctions.
"I can't really comment on that but I'll be there to support him," Cleary said.
Cleary ready to lead
"Tyrone is one of my best mates and I'll be there for him for whatever he's going through.
"Hopefully he does get to play this year but whatever happens, happens. He's accepted what he did and he's ready to move forward from that."
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary told NRL.com in December that he had May in his plans for his 2020 first-grade squad.
"We still have Tyrone May ... although I realise his situation is not settled at the moment. I would like him as part of my squad this year and he's another option [in the halves] for us," Cleary said in December.
May has been able to train with the rest of the Panthers team over the past 12 months.
"I think he's ready to play definitely. He's a pretty strong-minded guy and footy is his passion. The best way to move forward for him is to be playing footy," Nathan Cleary said.
"He's been looking pretty good – had a few injury setbacks but other than that he's been good and raring to go.
"He's a very talented football player. The thing about Tyrone is that he can cover a lot of positions so he's perfect for that bench spot. He can fill in the back line, at lock or hooker. He plays in the halves as well."
Nathan was open in his assessment that the scandal had taken its toll on the club's reputation, as well as the players' cohesion and commitment at times.
"It was tough. Any kind of drama like that for any team would be tough on the team involved," he said.
"It's in the past and we don't want to dwell on that. Just looking towards the future.
"But it is hard, especially if one of your mates is going through it … and you also see the name of your team in the paper every day."
The new season has dawned much brighter for the Panthers. They have made three astute signings in Manly hooker Api Koroisau, Sharks forward Kurt Capewell and Roosters prop Zane Tetevano.
"We definitely want to play finals footy this year and we're making steps from where we were last year," Nathan said. "In saying that it's hard to say where we're at until you actually start playing games."
The Panthers finished 10th in 2019 and have since lost rep duo James Maloney (Catalans) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Eels). That was on top of Waqa Blake (Eels) and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Bulldogs) leaving mid-season.