Upbeat Luai set to bounce back into premiership tilt

Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Nathan Cleary credits Jarome Luai's trademark positivity for helping fast-track his recovery as the Penrith ace prepares to return from injury just in time to push for a third consecutive premiership.

The Panthers held their collective breath when flamboyant five-eighth Luai dislocated his shoulder in the round-26 loss to Parramatta late last month.

Luai was consigned to a month out and told he would only return this year if the Panthers were to make it to the penultimate week of the play-offs.

They would need to make it that far with Jack Cogger filling in at five-eighth for Luai, who had been vital in back-to-back premiership triumphs.

But by beating the Warriors in Saturday's qualifying final, the Panthers earned a free pass to the preliminary final, meaning Luai will miss one game fewer than if they had been relegated to a sudden-death semi.

Replaced by Luke Garner against the Warriors, Izack Tago is on track to return from a pectoral injury in another boost for a Panthers side hunting Australian rugby league's first "three-peat" in 40 years.

"It definitely helps," Cleary said.

"Romey's an amazing player, an amazing asset to our team.

"Even Tags as well, getting another week. It's important to us.

"But in saying that, I thought 'Garns' out in the centres, not his usual position was very good.

"And also Cogs has been playing outstanding as well.

"It's good to know we have the depth there but good to get those guys another week to prepare and be ready for a big prelim."

Cleary, who himself missed seven weeks with a hamstring injury earlier in the season, lauded Luai for his upbeat attitude despite the injury threatening to scupper his and Penrith's finals campaigns.

Luai has told teammates he is adamant he will play in the preliminary final.

"He tells me he's right every week so I don't know how much to buy into that stuff," Cleary said.

"But that's just who he is, he has confidence and he manifests things. Half the battle's in the mind. He's fighting that battle well. He's always positive, that helps a lot when you're injured.

"He's in good spirits, he's always keeping that same energy and that means a lot to our team. It's a big part of what we are as a culture."