He’s never played an NRL Finals game in his life, now back-up Panthers half Jack Cogger will get that chance next week filling in for one of the most unique and important players in Ivan Cleary’s line-up.
When Jarome Luai dislocated his shoulder during Penrith’s shock loss to Parramatta last week, attention immediately turned to who would replace the NSW Origin half on the eve of the NRL Finals.
Barring another catastrophe in the final round of the regular season, 26-year-old Cogger will get his opportunity to link up with halfback Nathan Cleary and help steer the Panthers to a third consecutive title.
Speaking with the Weekender on Monday, Cogger said he’s excited to play in his first Finals game next week but felt a lot of sympathy for the injured Luai.
“It will be pretty exciting [to play Finals], but I haven’t thought too far ahead past this week,” he said.
“You never like to see a teammate get injured no matter what time of the year it is, but when it’s coming at such a pivotal time for the team and with important games coming up, it’s never good.
“Knowing Romey, he’ll turn a six-week injury into three or a four-week injury into two. He flicks the switch pretty quick and, in his mind, he’s ready to play. He’ll be giving the physios plenty of attention over the coming weeks to get himself ready as quick as he can.”
The Panthers medical team are currently working around the clock on Luai’s shoulder to get the livewire ready for a potential Preliminary Final in late September.
Cogger said he’s more than ready to fill Luai’s boots until he’s healthy enough to return.
“That’s what I was brought here to do,” Cogger said.
“Whether that was to fill in mid-season during Origin, later in the year, or for semi-finals, that’s the job I was brought here to do and it’s time to step up and do that.”
For supporters concerned about Cogger’s credentials heading into his maiden Finals Series, he wants to reassure fans that he knows the Panthers systems inside and out, and that he and Cleary – despite their lack of game time together this year – are ready to take on the challenge.
“What people don’t see each week is that not only have we trained together all year and during the pre-season, but we’re also in meetings together talking about footy, talking about how we’d play if it was just Nat and I or just Romey and I – it’s not like we are coming together this week and we’re trying to scramble and get things done,” Cogger said.
“There’s been a lot of work put in, in case something happens. It’s the next man up mentality. I’ve been in those meetings every week for every game, so it makes it a bit easier when something like this does come up.
“It’s still a big role for me to play but it makes it a lot easier when you’ve done the work during the year.”
With his time at the foot of the Mountains coming to an end at the conclusion of this season, the Knights-bound playmaker wants to do everything in his power in the coming weeks to repay the Panthers club for the faith they showed in him.
Cogger said he wouldn’t be heading up to Newcastle on a three-year deal next season if it wasn’t for his time at the defending Premiers.
“You become a better player here and that’s one thing that I can definitely say… for the short time I’ve been here in Penrith, I’m a better player for it,” he said.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.