Penrith's two-time premiership-winning five-eighth Jarome Luai is on track to make a miraculous return from a dislocated shoulder injury, in time for his side's NRL preliminary final against Melbourne on Friday night. Luai has not played since dislocating his left shoulder against Parramatta less than four weeks ago.
However, the crafty playmaker has been ramping up his training in preparation for Friday night's do-or-die clash with the Storm and got through a ballwork session with light contact during a training session with the Panthers on Sunday. Luai will be put through his paces in another light session on Monday, with Penrith's players given a day off Tuesday, before a full-contact opposed session on Wednesday.
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If Luai can come through those sessions without any concerns, he's likely to return for the preliminary final as the Panthers look to qualify for their fourth straight grand final. The indications are good for the 26-year-old representative playmaker, who has been in a typically confident mood at training, with teammates and fans backing him to return.
"He looked good out there," fullback Dylan Edwards said on Sunday. "I think he still has a couple of boxes to tick, but he is working hard and looking good. He's got a few more days of training to go and he'll keep working on it.
Panthers backing Jarome Luai to return
Panthers winger Brian To'o added: "I'm actually pretty confident. Obviously he's done the work of rehab, he's definitely been taken care of and been putting in the hard work off the field. He's looking pretty good and I'm pretty excited to see if he will be back or not."
Penrith centre Stephen Crichton even revealed a cheeky joke that Luai made about his rehab, which indicates the confidence the No.6 has about making an early return. " He said if it was anyone else they'd be out for two years," Crichton told reporters.
"A person like Romey is itching to get back on the field. This is all he ever loves doing, footy is in his DNA and just to be sitting on the sideline watching the boys for a few weeks, I think he'll be pretty keen to get back out there and get the job done."
Further to this… Jarome Luai looked strong leaping and catching kicks. Izack Tago was out there as well. The last to leave the session? Nathan Cleary https://t.co/0PWvMgpKQu
— Nathan Taylor (@NateTaylor87) September 17, 2023
Panthers teammates are confident Jarome Luai will be ready to go for Friday night's preliminary final against the Storm as the star five-eighth looks to return from a shoulder injury. https://t.co/v8z3jzDsFk
— NRL (@NRL) September 17, 2023
“Penrith playmaker Jarome Luai is on track to make a miracle return to take on the Storm on Friday night”
— Morty 🦖 (@MortyAUS) September 17, 2023
Will tago play? & if Jerome does play, I think cogger still deserves place on bench..
— Andrew Plasier (@Andyplas64) September 17, 2023
I was thinking exactly that, Cogs is in too good form to not be in the 17. He could cover dummy half, and it's great insurance for the chance Romey not lasting the 80mins, at least. Let's do this PENRITH 🖤❤💛💚
— brendan edwards (@brendan28131313) September 17, 2023
Ohhhh mind games. Showing both Tags and Romey. Love it.
— Paul Coles (@three5spades) September 17, 2023
— Mitchell Glover (@MitchGlover91) September 17, 2023
Jack Cogger has impressed at five-eighth in Luai's absence during the last two matches for Penrith, but the return of their first-choice No.6 would undoubtedly be a massive boost for the defending premiers. Luai and halfback Nathan Cleary have formed a lethal combination for the Panther, who are aiming to become the first team in 40 years to win a three-peat of NRL premierships.
Izack Tago firming to make Penrith return
Luai and halfback Nathan Cleary have won 83 of 94 games starting together at all levels since under-20s at Penrith. Another man tracking well to make his return from injury for Penrith is gun centre Izack Tago, who was a late withdrawal from the qualifying final victory over the Warriors with a pectoral injury. Tago also got through Sunday's session and like Luai, will have to see how the issue holds up on Wednesday before his place in the side is assured.
If Tago does not recover in time, Luke Garner will likely be the man to fill in at right centre after the regular second-rower moved one spot wider against the Warriors. "Everyone trained and everyone is looking fit and healthy," Garner said.
"It would be the same thing again this week (if I am asked to play centre). Train hard with them and work on what we need to work on. I felt comfortable out in the centres, I have probably played 10 or 15 games there in my career so it wasn't something foreign to me."
The Storm have their own injury concerns ahead of Friday night's match against Penrith, with halfback Jahrome Hughes (calf) and winger Xavier Coates (ankle) racing the clock to be available. "I think Jahrome has a better chance than Xavier at the moment," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said about the pair.
Melbourne utility Tyran Wishart filled in admirably for Hughes at halfback during the thrilling 18-13 semi-final win over the Sydney Roosters. Wishart scored the game's first try and looked measured and confident throughout the contest.
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