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Rabbitohs forward Jai Arrow has vowed to test out Nathan Cleary’s right shoulder if the star Panthers playmaker makes his comeback from off-season surgery in Friday night’s grand final re-match at BlueBet Stadium.

Cleary led Penrith to premiership glory at Suncorp Stadium after managing the shoulder injury he sustained helping NSW to victory in Origin II for the remainder of the season and has not played since undergoing surgery in the wake of the grand final.

His anticipated comeback will add to the hype surrounding the match after Souths recorded their first of the season against Sydney Roosters last weekend, while the Panthers held out a 12-man Newcastle to remain the only unbeaten team after three rounds of the Telstra Premiership.

Nathan and Ivan Cleary won the 2021 premiership together
Nathan and Ivan Cleary won the 2021 premiership together ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Arrow declared Penrith as the NRL’s best team and insisted he wouldn’t go looking for Viliame Kikau after the Fijian “clocked” him in his first carry of the ball in the grand final but he had no qualms in describing the welcome Cleary could expect from Souths if he plays.

“He obviously had a reco in the off-season and missed the first couple of rounds so he hasn’t had some footy under his belt, so we will definitely want to test his shoulder out and test him defensively,” Arrow said.

“He is obviously a quality player, you can’t take that away from him and he will no doubt do his job, but it is hard coming back after a surgery and trying to find your groove, especially when we have had a month of footy so I have no doubts we will try to test him out.

“We will want to isolate him and make him run as hard as he can to put his body in front of us. We will obviously want to run the ball hard and tackle even harder, and just enjoy the challenge.”

Arrow has been playing on the left edge this season so he is unlikely to come into direct contact with Kikau but the Queensland Origin enforcer will be opposite Cleary and Souths prop Mark Nicholls said the Panthers playmaker should prepare for plenty of tackling.

“I have done a shoulder and the first couple of games back you are nervous,” Nicholls said. “You have done all of your rehab but there is nothing like going out to tackle a 110kg forward running at you and I am sure that Jai can’t wait to run at him.

“I don’t think you would go out of your way to get at him but naturally your backrowers are running that lead line on the halves and I’m sure our halves will hit the backrowers a couple of times and we will see how he goes.”

The Rabbitohs players say they haven’t watched a replay of their 14-12 grand final loss but they believe the rule change in which the attacking team receives a penalty if their opponents are offside within their 40-metre line instead of a six-again call would have helped their cause.

Arrow also recalled his encounter with Kikau and the reception he received as he left the field for a HIA.

Viliame Kikau is a dangerman for Souths
Viliame Kikau is a dangerman for Souths ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“He clocked me. He got me straight away in the first carry,” Arrow said. It is something that happened on the field and you respect each other off the field.

“I won’t go looking for him, he is too big. The last time he got me a good one, but it is what it is, and I will move forward from that. I am just looking forward to the whole challenge.

“They are a quality side right across the park and if you want to be the best, you have got to beat the best, so I am really excited for Friday night against the reigning premiers. No doubt there will be a bit of fireworks and both packs will go after each other.”

Asked about his comments he made to Kikau immediately after the incident, Arrow said: “I was saying to him, ‘don’t worry I will be back. I am coming back, I promise you’.”

However, he said some Panthers fans and possibly the players on the interchange bench had assumed it was something more sinister.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Rabbitohs

“I remember coming off and I copped it a fair it,” Arrow said. “Rightly so because in the semi I tried to go after them and in the grand final I came out on the shit end of the stick. I took my first carry and I was straight off again.

“I remember the bench and I think it might have been the families [of Penrith players] behind them giving it to me. I look back now and I suppose it is funny but at the time walking off I was pretty filthy because I got clocked in the head.

“It is always a pretty fiery game against Penrith, they have been probably the best side over the past three years so it is a credit to them. They have barely been beaten over the past three years so we have to respect them, and we will do that.”

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