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The first time Ivan Cleary saw Dylan Edwards play he feared the Panthers new country blow-in would put his son Nathan out of a job.

The first time Edwards hit a form slump in his career – literally kick-started by grand final opponents Melbourne last year – the Panthers No.1 wondered if he'd ever get his mojo back.

A horror night in Bathurst last March saw Edwards unable to catch a cold despite the freezing conditions, his six handling errors against the Storm compounded by another four in a loss to Wests Tigers the following week.

Edwards concedes his confidence was rocked by the saga, despite Cleary initially backing him to rebound from the Bathurst outing before sending him to reserve grade for three weeks.

"I didn't repay him very well to be honest, I think I went out and dropped another half a dozen balls the next week," Edwards laughed leading into Sunday's decider.

"That was a nice nod from him to show that belief in me.

"Ivan said at the time he'd seen people have a shocker and the next week come out and have a blinder. I didn't do that but that was his way of showing he believed in my ability.

"The next month-and-a-half of footy was pretty hard there for me.

"It wasn't a fun time but I'm grateful for it because it was a learning experience that I've come through and come out the other side of."

Cleary certainly is as well considering the potential he has always seen in the product of Dorrigo, population a tick over 1000, on the NSW north coast.

Never more so than for the final 77 minutes of last week's tense victory over South Sydney.

Edwards lost possession with his first carry of the game, leading to a Rabbitohs try that previously could have shattered the 24-year-old.

Instead Edwards couldn't be cracked at the back despite a peppering of high balls from Adam Reynolds, mirroring the aerial assaults Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai have launched at Edwards most every training session since their days in Penrith's SG Ball system.

"He's come a long way this year, his bounce back to be one of our best after having the ball stripped in that first carry, it shows his mental strength," Cleary told

"He initially came to us as a five-eighth to start [in 2013], I knew we had a few kids come down from the bush in that age group and Dyl came down touted for a big future.

"Nathan and Jarome were already in the halves and I think Tyrone May but we had a bit of a rotation policy so everyone got two games or whatever it was.

Yeo busts the Bunnies to provide for Edwards

"Dyl went into five-eighth, Nat sat out that game and Dylan brained it. Absolutely killed it.

"I remember thinking and I probably said it to a few people too, Nath might not get back in, this kid is something.

"The next year we had a conversation amongst the coaches about trying him at fullback.

"We put him back there up at fullback, a couple of bombs went up and he absolutely killed it again. At 20s level he was phenomenal, in the top three players every week and he went from there."

Edwards has been Penrith's fittest player from the moment he stepped into their first grade squad, having been "miles ahead" of his team-mates throughout their junior days as well.

Between the ears is where his biggest improvements have come, having told previously of his work with gold-medal winning Olympic swim coach Bill Nelson about breathing techniques and mental management.



"Confidence is the difference for me this year," Edwards said.

"I'd never considered any sort of mindfulness training until I did start having those confidence issues.

"There's some practices to get you through those moments in games. Basically just to get you breathing naturally and normally because that's something that can change on you without you realising.

"It's nothing too major, just trying to focus on staying present and staying in the moment. Playing each play for what it is rather than worrying about what could happen."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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