Having missed a large chunk of 2015 and almost the entire 2016 season to injury after injury, the Kiwi international was just starting to reassert himself in his favored position at right centre when Whare faced further time off the field having suffered a facial fracture in Penrith’s loss to Souths.
The centre, having earlier in the season re-signed with the club for four more years with an option for a fifth, could do no more then watch on as that loss sparked his team-mates to go on a seven-match winning streak to secure another finals spot.
Even when cleared to play again coach, Anthony Griffin had little choice but to play Whare in the Intrust Super Premiership, where he bided his time for a month waiting for an opportunity.
As so often happens that opportunity came in the form of an injury to fullback Dylan Edwards that ruled him out of the final round of the regular season, before Blake’s cruel shoulder injury opened the door for Whare to resume at right centre last Saturday night.
But before these turn of events, Whare conceded he was concerned he would not be able to force his way back given the form of outside backs, Blake, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Tyrone Peachey and Josh Mansour.
“Yeah definitely, the boys were going so well and I was injured and they didn’t look like losing and I knew I had to play really well in the ISP and get some form again,” Whare told Nepean News.
“I did that and got the opportunity last week to play with the boys again and this week with the unfortunate injury to Waqa come straight back into the centres.”
For the first time in over four years, Whare played the first of two back-to-back games against his former club at fullback in Penrith’s 28-12 loss and says that while he doesn’t mind playing in that position, he was more than relieved when the opportunity came to return to the centres in Penrith’s 22-10 elimination final win.
“I don’t mind filling in here and there at fullback but it’s a big ask, you sort of get the lungs blown out there trying to push up with every play,” Whare replied.
“I love defending at the line and tackling but it’s a bit harder from the back there when you know you’ve got to direct the boys around and still do those one on one tackles.
“I’m definitely more comfortable playing out on that right edge with Nathan (Cleary), Dal (Watene-Zelezniak) and Corey (Harawira-Naera).”
Whare said the final round loss to Manly was the wake-up call the team needed going into the finals, having become the first Penrith side to limp into the finals on the back of two consecutive losses, adding it was vital the team more than matched Manly’s intensity in the opening twenty minutes.
“I think we learnt a lot from those two losses, the way we play the ball, the way we defend, it helped us going into this week,” Whare responded.
“I think from that first game against Manly we sort of knew we were in the top eight and we knew we didn’t want to get pumped by them.
“But as soon as the finals series came round it’s a whole different game and definitely helps us knowing it’s a do or die match.
“(The key was) just sticking with them in that first twenty minutes as we knew they were going to come out strong again.
“We sort of changed our game plan a bit and it worked out well (given) we finish well in those last twenty minutes which is a key advantage for us.”
Photos: 77 Media
Penrith’s path to a grand final spot doesn’t get any easier however with tonight’s clash in front of up to 50,000 Broncos fans at Suncorp Stadium.
Win that and the Panthers face another interstate trip a week later to square up against overwhelming premiership favorites, Melbourne.
But it’s a challenge that Whare is looking forward to despite the enormity of the task.
“It’s going to be a big ask for us again to play in front of 40-50,000 people,” Whare admitted.
“It will be just us trying to keep together and play as a team as we did against Manly.
“It’s not the easiest run for us but pretty much every game is do or die so we are going to go up there and do the best we can for the 80 minutes.”