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Richie Kennar has backed himself to handle an aerial assault from Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary in Saturday night’s preliminary final after being called up as a late replacement for Alex Johnston.

Kennar had been on standby for Johnston since Wednesday and was called onto the Rabbitohs left wing after the NRL’s top tryscorer succumbed to a hip injury that forced him from the field during last weekend’s defeat of Cronulla.

It will be just Kennar’s second NRL appearance of the season after initially re-joining Souths on a train-and-trial contract at the start of the season, but the 27-year-old insists he won’t be overawed by the occasion.

Welcome back Richie

“It’s exciting and I am very motivated. I know it will  be a tough game but I’m looking forward to it,” Kennar said.

“I was told on Wednesday that I was a chance to play depending on AJ and just to be ready. It was in the back of my mind but today it was confirmed so I’m excited.

“It’s great to play against some of the best players in the game.”

Asked if he was prepared to be tested by Cleary’s bombs, Kennar said: “Yes, it’s not the first bomb I’ve had to catch in my life”.

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After making his debut for Melbourne in 2015, Kennar has played 32 NRL matches for the Storm, Rabbitohs and Broncos.

He played eight NRL matches for Souths in 2018 and returned to the club this season after three years in Brisbane.

Kennar hopes a strong performance against the Panthers can help secure his long term playing future.

“Every opportunity is a chance and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou was also confident that Kennar would cope with any test thrown his way by the premiers after an impressive performance against the Knights in round 19.

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“He has played one game, scored a hat-trick, he’s been awesome for us throughout the year,” Demetriou said.

“He really fits into our culture, the boys love him here and you could tell, when I told the boys he was playing, how excited they were.

"He's been around the traps so he's not going to be overawed by the occasion. He's really good in the air, which is really important, dealing with Nathan’s kicking game, so that's a plus for us.

“Coming out of the back of the field, he's as strong in yardage carries as anyone."

Demetriou indicated that Johnston would be available for the grand final if Souths beat Penrith at Accor Stadium on Saturday night.

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