Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has revealed that at least five of his battered troops "shouldn't have been playing" in Sunday's grand final but somehow defied injuries to help clinch a premiership "purely on courage".
Among the walking wounded in the 14-12 win over the Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium was fullback Dylan Edwards, who Cleary said had nursed a broken foot "for a month", leaving him unable to train.
Props James Fisher-Harris (knee) and Moses Leota (calf) were both in doubt for the decider while powerhouse winger Brian To'o has pushed through a lingering ankle problem.
And Clive Churchill Medallist Nathan Cleary is booked in for surgery after he subluxed his shoulder and suffered a cartilage tear in State of Origin II in late June.
"I reckon there were at least five that probably shouldn't have been playing today. I don't say that lightly," Ivan Cleary said.
"It was a calculated risk on a lot of boys. I actually woke up at two o'clock this morning and I couldn't get back to sleep because I was thinking, 'My god, honestly, three or four of them could be gone by 10 minutes'.
Cleary reveals real extent of Penrith's walking wounded
"But it was calculated and they just refused not to play. It was probably Fish, Moses, Dyl Edwards.
"Dyl Edwards, oh my God. He's had a broken foot for a month. Has not trained, walked around with crutches every week and then goes out and plays. I don't understand how that can happen. I guess that just sums up the bond [at the club].
"We've had a lot of guys play injured throughout the season. Bizza [To'o], in particular, played twice with a syndesmosis injury and never came off.
"I remember Tyrone [May] doing his MCL badly, twice actually, and again, kept playing. They've just created this culture of, unfortunately, no one wanted to be the one who put their hand up and said, 'I can’t play'.
"It's just hard for me to explain. Incredible."
Co-captain Isaah Yeo believes the mid-year injury pile-up gave Penrith a tougher edge that ultimately allowed them to go one better than 2020.
"Pretty much since the Origin period we've been back against the wall a little bit, never had the same team on the park two weeks in a row," the lock said.
"Although we didn't really look at it [negatively]. I was always looking at it as a positive that we were going to be so battle-hardened once we actually got to this point - if we got to that point.
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"We had some really close games. [A week-two finals win over] Parramatta, everyone sort of wrote us off against the Storm [in the prelim] just because of how much juice it took out of us and that same thing followed on.
"We spoke about it at the start of the week, we just felt so confident. Some players weren't training, but that's sort of happened for the last month as well though."
Nathan Cleary, meanwhile, downplayed his bravery to play with a banged-up shoulder.
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The halfback was sidelined for more than a month prior to the finals as he worked relentlessly to rebuild his strength.
"It's actually not been that bad if you compare it to other guys in our team. They're just absolute warriors and they've been dealing with a lot worse stuff than what I have," Nathan said.
For coach Cleary, the victory finally provides the premiership success he's craved almost all his life.
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As his South Sydney counterpart Wayne Bennett quipped: "Sometimes you have a monkey on your back; he had a gorilla on his. It’s just jumped off".
In 186 first-grade games as a player, Cleary never lifted the trophy. Now, after 370 NRL matches as a head coach including two grand final defeats, he can savour the moment.
"I couldn't bear thinking about losing today," Cleary said.
"Personally, since I was a fan, a player, an assistant coach, a coach, it's probably 45 years never winning a grand final, so I'm going to make this one last!"