LAST SAY: Moylan absence overshadows Edwards' shock return from injury
Coach Anthony Griffin denied the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of absent skipper Matt Moylan was a distraction, as he prepares to take a somewhat under-strength Penrith outfit into tonight's sudden-death finals clash with Manly at Allianz Stadium, despite being bolstered by the early return from injury of fullback Dylan Edwards.
Griffin also denied suggestions of a rift between he and his star player, instead continuing to push with Phil Gould's explanation earlier in the week that Moylan is unlikely to feature for Penrith in this finals series as he looks to deal with "personal issues."
"I don't think so (being a distraction). Things have been handled really well by everyone," Griffin responded.
"There's a lot of stuff that gets spoken about this time of year, I mean in regards to these situations.
"I spoke to him during Wednesday. He looked well, he was training.
"He's doing his rehab and his care is our main concern as we wish him all the best care as our General Manager spoke about the other day."
Griffin, who has become the first Panthers coach to qualify his team for the finals despite losing the last two regular games of the season, did little to quash reports that Moylan was set to leave the club with Cronulla reportedly leading the charge for his services in 2018, despite declarations from both club and player at last Monday's meeting stating they were 100% committed to one another.
"It's just the nature of the beast when something like this happens," Griffin replied.
"There will always be reports about people making plays for him.
"We can stand here and talk about Matt and the situation he's in.
"But my focus at the moment is what we're doing this week and the other stuff it gets talked about regardless of what I say.
"What's important is how we work going forward and his welfare."
Griffin conceded Manly's physicality and intensity last Saturday caught the Panthers napping with the game as good as over trailing 28-0 with nearly half a hour remaining before restoring some late pride to lose the match 28-12, before declaring his side deserve their opportunity to reverse that result tonight.
"We got a real lesson on physicality and intensity in that first twenty minutes from Manly last week.
"We've got to be able to meet that and be a lot better physically ourselves this week.
"We're very disappointed with the way we finished the regular season but it's a new week and we get another chance tonight.
"We've earned the right to be here this time of year and so have Manly.
"From our end we've got a lot of confidence in our resilience and the form that we've shown at the back end of the year.
"We've been playing high pressure football for a while now.
"We've had to go away to Canberra and New Zealand and places like that and play desperate teams playing for their season.
"That last week was a real taste of what desperate football is like at this time of year coming up against a team that was playing for their season.
"We didn't get it right last week but tonight's an opportunity for us to do that.
"The key for us is that we get out there and play our best game of football.
"There will be two teams out there tonight playing for their season.
"There's no second chances, we're very focused on that and we're looking forward to the challenge."
On top of Moylan's unavailability, Penrith have been dealt a double-blow with centre Waqa Blake (shoulder - season) and prop Tim Browne (hand) ruled out of tonight's clash.
Blake's reconstructive surgery, booked in for Monday, also means the Fijian international will miss the World Cup later this year.
But in some much needed good news for the embattled Panthers coach, the early return from injury of Edwards allows last week's fill-in fullback Dean Whare to replace Blake in the centres.
"He's looking good (Edwards). He got through Thursday and (yesterday) so it looks like he'll play," Griffin confirmed.
"It's a great result for Dylan and for us as a team, for him to be back this early.
"We thought he was going to be out for three or four weeks but he's ended up being back inside two which is a credit to our medical staff to be able to get him back on the field so quick."
Edwards' return nonetheless gives the Panther spine a very youthful look to it, with he, Cleary and May having played just 61 games between them.
But while Griffin concedes stand-in skipper Peter Wallace will have to shoulder the responsibility of guiding his play-makers around the park, he is confident his rookie spine will be better for the experience gained from playing in last week's loss.
"Peter's an experienced campaigner, played in a lot of finals, played in a lot of big games so I'm sure he'll do that (guide his side)," Griffin declared.
"The other guys we can't do anything about their age at the moment but I'm sure they'll be a lot better than what they were last week.
"I've got all the confidence in them (the rookies who haven't played finals footy).
"If anything last week was finals intensity, they weren't ready for it so if anything they'll get a lesson out of what finals intensity is all about."
Photos: 77 Media / Penrith Panthers
MANLY V PENRITH: THE FACTS
PLAYED 85: MANLY 51 PENRITH 33 DRAWN 1
PRIOR TO LAST SATURDAY'S LOSS PENRITH WON 7 OF LAST 8 INCLUDING LAST FIVE IN A ROW.
FINALS: 1ST MEETING (ALTHOUGH PENRITH DEFEATED MANLY IN A 1985 PLAYOFF)
FINALS RECORD AT ALLIANZ:
PENRITH: 6 WINS 5 LOSSES MANLY: 13 WINS 12 LOSSES
ANTHONY GRIFFIN 3 TRENT BARRETT 1
COACHES CLUB RECORD:
ANTHONY GRIFFIN: WON 28 LOST 22
TRENT BARRETT: WON 22 LOST 26
COACHES FINALS RECORD:
ANTHONY GRIFFIN: WON 3 LOST 4
TRENT BARRETT: 1ST FINALS APPEARANCE
PENRITH: PLAYED 54 WON 27 LOST 27 6 FINALS DEBUTANTS
MANLY: PLAYED 47 WON 23 LOST 24 8 FINALS DEBUTANTS
BRENTON LAWRENCE LOOKING FOR 50TH NRL WIN