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Panthers prepared for potential 'smoke and mirrors' from Rabbitohs

Penrith won't be shocked if South Sydney make a late change at fullback despite naming rookie Blake Taaffe in the No.1 jersey for Saturday night's qualifying final.

Regardless of who steps into the suspended Latrell Mitchell's boots, halfback Nathan Cleary is eager to "test out" the custodian with a barrage of torpedo kicks at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

The Panthers haven't discounted the possibility of Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston or five-eighth Cody Walker moving to fullback, where they've both played previously, and are preparing accordingly.

"Not quite sure what they're doing there, I'm not sure if there's smoke and mirrors there or not," co-captain Isaah Yeo said on Tuesday.

"But obviously they've come out and said that [Taaffe] is playing. You've got to do your video on him and make sure you're nullifying him as much as possible. He's obviously there for a reason.

"They're fortunate enough they've got a lot of different options ... They've got other players that can fill that role," he later added.

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"The depth they've got at the minute – it's not bad. We'll do our due diligence on Taaffe, for sure, but I don't think we'd be surprised if there was a change there late.

"We're doing our due diligence on the 1-17, but I think every team looks over at the whole 21 and sees what options are there."

With Mitchell's season over, Taaffe did a solid job in last week's win over the Dragons in only his fifth first-grade appearance.

But South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett admitted he will need to be certain in the 22-year-old's ability to handle Cleary's towering bombs after the Penrith No.7 terrorised Josh Mansour in round 23.

"I think whoever's back there, I'd like to test them out but we'll see how the game is going," Cleary said.

"It's something to keep an eye on, just positionally and trying to put them under a bit of pressure.

"But to do that we have to be getting our go-forward right, getting our quick play-the-balls and putting me in positions to put up the kicks I want to.

"A lot of it's just with game-flow and stuff like that, but definitely, I always want to test out the fullback no matter who it is."

Cleary himself is only 23 but the playmaker is heading into the finals with a strong sense of belief in his ability and that of his side.

He is equipped to excel in the crunch moments after harnessing the experience of last year's grand final appearance before dominating for NSW in the State of Origin arena earlier this season.

"I think anytime you – as a team – perform well, and especially on the biggest stage in Origin series, you take confidence out of it," Cleary said.

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"We were lucky enough to have five or six guys play in the Origin series this year and to win one. I think you do take confidence out of that.

"I feel like I've taken a lot of confidence out of every finals game I've played so far in my career and learnt differences along the way.

"I'm hoping to take those into this finals series and helping out the guys that are probably going through their first finals series or are very early in their career."

And having returned from a shoulder injury a month ago, Cleary isn't worried about his condition in the heat of battle.

"It feels fine at the moment. Definitely not thinking about it too much on the field. Once I'm in the game, it just feels normal," he said.

"Mostly just trying to avoid getting in awkward situations, but in terms of contact and getting tackled, it feels fine. The physio staff has done an amazing job, very grateful for the work they've put into me."

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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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