Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has spoken for the first time this pre-season about his side’s preparations for the upcoming 2015 season including this weekend’s first major trial against the Warriors in New Zealand.
Cleary revealed up to a dozen players won’t take the field this Saturday in Rotorua due to surgery recovery and other commitments including the NRL All Stars game, which takes place tonight.
“We’re taking the strongest side we can,” Cleary told the media on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a few players who are playing in the All Stars (Matt Moylan and Tyrone Peachey) plus quite a few still returning from injury. There are about a dozen guys who won’t be playing.”
One player who certainly won’t be making his return from knee surgery this weekend will be Panthers halfback and captain Peter Wallace. Although, his partner in crime Jamie Soward will suit up despite also undergoing off-season ankle surgery.
“Jamie’s playing this week … and Pete’s looking good for next week, although he is coming on this trip,” Cleary said.
“We have another big trial against the Eels next week and the guys that don’t play this week will play next week.”
Other players who won’t be available during Penrith’s pre-season campaign include Jamal Idris, who underwent back surgery last month, and Josh Mansour, who also had off-season shoulder surgery.
“Jamal’s surgery was recent and he’ll be struggling to make Round 1. Josh Mansour also won’t be playing Round 1,” Cleary revealed.
“I expect us to be very competitive to start the season but I guess you’re not going to be at your best and everyone is in the same boat.”
Meanwhile, Cleary commented on reports that the Panthers were in the market to sign State of Origin representative forward and St George-Illawarra Dragons star Trent Merrin.
Cleary said the club was “always looking at high quality players”.
“Our recruitment policy, our mandate is to develop our own players and that’s going on very nicely. But from time to time we’re always going to look out for something we can’t grow,” he said.
Panthers five-eighth Jamie Soward was also asked if he was trying to recruit his former Dragons teammate to the club.
“Na, I haven’t spoken to Mez at all,” he said.
“He’s a fantastic guy and obviously a big talent, having played for NSW the last couple of years.”
The Panthers will take on the New Zealand Warriors this Saturday, February 14 in Rotarua. Kick off is at 1pm with the game to be shown live on FOX Sports 5.