Panthers played it safe subbing Moses Leota out of loss

Jasper Bruce |

Moses Leota (centre) was substituted out of Penrith’s loss to St George Illawarra.
Moses Leota (centre) was substituted out of Penrith’s loss to St George Illawarra.

Ivan Cleary played it safe substituting Moses Leota out of Penrith’s loss to St George Illawarra as the Panthers face the possibility of losing another player in the already hectic State of Origin period.

Three-time premiership-winning prop Leota tweaked his hamstring in the first half of Saturday night’s 22-10 NRL loss to the Dragons at BlueBet Stadium.

Panthers staff told AAP that Leota’s injury appeared minor and that he was a chance to return, though the 28-year-old ultimately remained sidelined after his first stint on the field. 

Coach Cleary said the round-13 clash was not the time to risk Leota. The Panthers were already well below strength, missing five players to State of Origin duty, and Nathan Cleary, Luke Garner and Matt Eisenhuth to injuries.

“At the end of the day, it was probably my decision (to substitute Leota out),” Cleary said.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary (pictured) didn’t want to take any risks with Moses Leota. (Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS)

“There was enough doubt for me to not put him on. I wasn’t going to risk at all tonight, especially when we were up 10-0 at halftime.

“It’s a little strange, because it felt like he presented quite well. But there was no way I was going to risk him tonight.”

Leota’s long-term partner in crime in the front row, James Fisher-Harris, joked that his teammate had overreacted to the hamstring trouble.

“He feels like it’s all right. I don’t know why he was carrying on,” he said.

Since surging to premiership dominance in the 2020 season, the Panthers have become accustomed to losing players to representative duty when the mid-season Origin window rolls around.

New Zealand and Samoa international Leota has been a stalwart in that window, which  Cleary has long considered a crucial period on the road to a premiership.

The Panthers will eagerly await updates on Leota’s condition on Sunday, having already lost Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o, Dylan Edwards, Jarome Luai and Liam Martin to State of Origin duty ahead of the loss to the Dragons.

That quintet is a strong chance to be selected for the entire Origin series, but the Panthers have the bye directly before games two and three so will only lose them for more game-time if Cleary decides they need to be rested.

Cleary has not yet formulated a plan as to his Origin stars’ availability for the round-14 clash against Manly, to be played next Sunday.

“It kind of depends on circumstances,” he said.

“We haven’t made any decisions as yet. We’ll let them play the (Origin) game, we’ll prepare without them and see how they pull up.”

AAP