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'He can play anywhere': Cleary backs May for utility role

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary believes Tyrone May's possible NRL return in round five is a blessing in disguise after the playmaker produced a solid return in his first appearance since 2018.  

May was off limits to the media following the Panthers' 32-4 trial win on Saturday night but Cleary indicated the utility had been nervous leading into his first game back.

The 23-year-old scored a try and played a part in another to give Cleary a possible selection headache down the track when his NRL-imposed suspension is lifted in April after he pleaded guilty in January to four charges of intentionally recording an intimate image without consent.

Under the rules around his NRL return, May will be available for the opening four rounds of NSW's Canterbury Cup competition. 

"We were saying it was the first time he'd been in the sheds for 12 months so just that whole environment he's missed," Cleary said.

"We spoke about lowering his expectations and not feeling like he had to come out and play the best he can.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Wests Tigers

"I thought he did OK, looked a bit rusty at times but that's not unusual. He's had plenty of disruptions this season for various reasons.

"I'm sure he'll feel a lot better after getting that one out of the way."

Prior to being stood down by the NRL last season, May played 10 games at five-eighth and nine off the bench across two seasons. 

Cleary indicated the bench utility spot was May's for the taking once he becomes available.

"He's a really good No.14 because he can play so many positions. He played a bit of halfback, five-eighth and can play hooker … he can play anywhere," Cleary said.

"In fairness, he probably needs that time playing Canterbury Cup as well. It's good to have him in the squad."

The time away from the game hasn't hampered May's personality with the former Samoan international dying his hair blonde for his return game.

Cleary explained May was next up for a light-hearted team punishment for minor training indiscretions.

Panthers winger Josh Mansour and playmaker Jarome Luai have also copped different style haircuts throughout the summer break.

"They have a little system where you get certain things, it's either shave your hair or dye your hair so he chose that option," Cleary said.

"I'm not sure why."

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