Masked Panther: Cleary v Luai showdown looms

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More history to be made

World Cup organisers would be hopeful of England making it through to next week’s Final but back here in Australia, there’s little doubt Samoa will have plenty of support on Sunday morning.

Penrith’s Jarome Luai and Brian To’o will be hoping to cap off a remarkable couple of years by creating a slice of history and taking Samoa to a World Cup Final against either Australia or New Zealand.

A mouth-watering clash between Luai and Nathan Cleary awaits – it’d be the talking point of the build-up, no doubt.

Brian To’o and Jarome Luai. Photo: NRL Images.

Cleary keeps duties

Nathan Cleary will retain the goal kicking duties for Australia in this Saturday morning’s World Cup showdown with New Zealand. Cleary’s form with the boot has been surprisingly poor during the tournament, with even smaller balls blamed by coach Mal Meninga last weekend.

There was some talk that Valentine Holmes would take the pressure off Cleary and kick goals this weekend, but that won’t be happening – Cleary will keep the job.


New signage has gone up at Panthers Leagues Club, showcasing the team’s 2022 Premiership success. There’s also a huge Nathan Cleary image adorning the wall just outside the Osso restaurant.

Saints are marching in

Any doubt that the World Club Challenge would happen in Penrith next February was all but extinguished when the 2023 Super League draw was released last week. St Helens’ round one match against Huddersfield, due to be played on February 17, has been officially listed as “postponed”. It’s the strongest indication yet that the Saints will take on the Panthers at BlueBet Stadium on February 18.

As I reported last week, the World Club Challenge will act as Penrith’s final trial with the ‘Battle of the West’ against the Eels to be played on February 11.

No trip stateside

It’s hilarious that anyone thought the NRL would actually push ahead and take a game to the United States next year. Every time the idea is floated it never eventuates and 2023 will be no different. The NRL says it’s pushing ahead with plans to take a game there in 2024. We won’t hold our breath.

Bookies back a threepeat

Penrith are incredibly short to win next year’s NRL title on Grand Final Day despite the loss of superstar hooker Api Koroisau and powerhouse second-rower Viliame Kikau.

The TAB has Penrith at $3.75 to win the Premiership, incredible odds given a threepeat has never been achieved by any team in the NRL era. The Roosters are second favourites at $7.00.

You can get slightly better odds for Penrith over at Sportsbet, where they remain favourites but are sitting at $4.00.

Dylan’s deserved break

With no World Cup commitments, Clive Churchill Medal winner Dylan Edwards has been enjoying some time off, spending a few weeks in Fiji with his partner Nadine and their two kids.

Schedule released

The time of year has come again where The Masked Panther alerts family and friends to his unavailability the following year.

The 2023 Draw was scheduled to be released on Thursday morning, revealing a round one showdown at BlueBet Stadium between Penrith and Brisbane.

It was one of the most complicated season schedules to put together in history, with the NRL dealing with a perfect storm of issues. Not only did they have to cater for the inclusion of a weekly bye thanks to the arrival of the Dolphins, but officials had to coordinate Origin returning to Wednesday nights, the inclusion of an extra bye for all teams and venue availability, which is at a premium next year.

Marto deal done

Liam Martin’s contract extension will be officially announced when he returns from the World Cup.

Membership deadline

Fans who want their 2023 Membership Packs in time for Christmas need to have signed up for a membership by December 1. Not surprisingly, season tickets have been hugely popular again next year.


Isaah Yeo’s partner Ashleigh and daughter Haven at Sydney Airport ready to head to England for the business end of the Rugby League World Cup.

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