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Published Time: 26.06.2024 - 05:31:41 Modified Time: 26.06.2024 - 05:31:41

Slater, of course, named an unchanged line-up from the one that took down the Blues in Game 1 which marks the first time since 2013 that the Maroons have kept the same starting team in back-to-back Origin games. State of Origin 2024

It doesn’t sound like Nathan Cleary is a chance of making a surprise comeback for the potential State of Origin series decider.

The Panthers are cautiously optimistic that Cleary will make his return from a hamstring injury for their round 20 match against the Dolphins next month, effectively ruling him out of a miracle comeback for the Blues in game three.

Cleary hasn’t played since scans revealed a grade two hamstring tear against the Bulldogs in round 10 in what was just his second game back from a similar injury suffered in the grand final rematch.

The triple premiership winner has been restricted to just five appearances this season after he conjured the greatest grand final comeback last year, but the Panthers have handled his absence well to sit second with the best defensive record.

The initial timeline on his return was for Cleary to miss eight weeks, but it looks like Panthers fans will have to wait a little longer for their home match on July 21 which would also rule him out of a shock comeback for Origin III.

“We’re hopeful (that he’ll be back) after our next bye,” Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said.

“We’ve got a couple of games and then a bye, but that hasn’t been confirmed. He’s steadily going through his rehab and it’s going well. Let’s hope he keeps going well.

“That was a fairly loose target and it hasn’t been confirmed, but his rehab is going well.

“(His return date) has nothing to do with how we’ve been playing. This decision was made from the time he had the second injury.

“The bye is a part of it because if your team’s not here, you miss full team training which actually adds to the length of the rehab. At this stage everything is on track.”

Cleary has resumed training but is weeks away from peak fitness, with the Panthers unwilling to risk their most important player as they chase a fourth title in a row.

“He’s running but he’s a bit off hitting top speed and doing everything with the team. He’s gradually getting there,” his dad said.

“He’s well aware of the plan and everything involved. The last thing we all want is a re-injury.

“We’ve probably done more this time in and around looking into as many things as we could find (to help him) and we’re really comfortable with the approach we’ve taken. We’re very confident he’ll be fine.”

Moses, who has missed most of the 2024 season with a fractured foot, will be right to play on Wednesday night.

However he has experienced some soreness in that foot during Origin camp and hence, has decided to remove himself from the running for the goalkicking gig.

Lomax, who is striking at just under 80% with the boot this season, beat out Souths star Latrell Mitchell for the job, with the Blues coaching staff reportedly only making their decision late Tuesday.

“When I watched the game back I regretted not getting in his face there, but I’ll save it for Game II.

“That’s life but we will get on with it and get a win in Melbourne.”

Cherry-Evans played a straight bat when asked the incident at Wednesday’s joint press conference.

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it, only because this time of year it’s honestly not in my best interests to be watching what you guys talk ,” Cherry-Evans said.

“I don’t mean that out of disrespect, there’s obviously a job for you guys to do to create hype and excitement around our game.

“I really don’t have a great understanding what has been said this week, I’m just excited going out there and playing.”

In an awkward moment on last Monday, Slater said he never believed Maguire’s sledge was aimed at him. He stuck with that stance when asked it during the press conference.