Nathan Cleary is ready for the step up to finals football, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin believes.
The star rookie halfback will play just his 14th NRL game in Sunday’s elimination final against Canterbury.
But Griffin reckons Cleary’s development thus far proves he is ready for the rise in intensity and physicality.
“He is well placed to be able to handle that. He has come up against some tough sides in his last 13 weeks,” Griffin said on Saturday.
“He debuted against the Storm and played Brisbane in Brisbane.
“Obviously it is a semi-final so (it) will be another level up on what’s been happening over the last few weeks but he’s a really good boy and I have no doubt he will be able to handle it.”
Bulldogs playmaker Josh Reynolds has promised to turn up the heat on Cleary at Allianz Stadium and Griffin says the Dogs will be a different side to the one that lost the last three regular season games.
“They have a big experienced side, they know what finals football is all about,” he said.
“They made a grand final from a similar position a few years ago. They will have a lot of belief in themselves.
“It will be another level up tomorrow and we are capable of playing another level up on what we have been over the last few weeks.”
Griffin says the return of interchange forward Sam Kasiano from a two-match suspension will be crucial for the Dogs.
“Kasiano is a massive in for them,” he said.
“He is a real spark for them in attack when he comes on around the middle of the first half and the two halves are very good too.
“They have been under a bit of scrutiny at the back end of the year with how they have been playing.
“But they are both excellent halves and great running halves and I have no doubt they will be trying to test our line out tomorrow at vital parts of the game.”
* Anthony Griffin is just the second Panthers coach after Phil Gould in 1990 to make the finals in his first year at the club. Gould went on to make the grand final in that season before winning the premiership in 1991.
* 2016 is the Bulldogs’ fifth straight finals appearance, the equal longest streak in club history.
* This is Des Hasler’s 12th straight finals series. He is the first coach in history to make five consecutive finals series with different teams.
* The Bulldogs attack has struggled in the past three weeks, failing to score more than 16 points in any of these matches. Over the past three games they are ranked last in points (12 per game), linebreaks (1.3 per game) and tackle busts (17 per game).