Penrith players will rally around grieving skipper Peter Wallace when he makes his return from injury for the NRL local derby against Parramatta on Friday night.
Wallace has missed the club’s past five matches after undergoing surgery on the same knee that required a reconstruction late last year.
But the Panthers halfback has also been dealing with another pain – losing mother Dianne to breast cancer a fortnight ago.
It was a battle that was thought to be over when Wallace returned home to captain Penrith at the start of last season.
But the cancer returned aggressively in January this year, to the point where she had trouble talking to family members.
Four months later it cut short the life of a mother who single-handedly raised Wallace.
The 29-year-old was named by coach Ivan Cleary on Tuesday for what will be an emotional return to the paddock – and his teammates want him to know he has the support of the entire region.
“The last week or two’s been really tough for him, but he’s handled himself very well,” five-eighth Jamie Soward told AAP.
“He knows he’s got the support and love of everyone here at Penrith, all the fans, and the rugby league community, because he’s such a good guy.
“He wouldn’t want a big fuss to be made about it at all.
“But as players, we’ve said we’re going to be there and we’re going to stick by him.”
While Wallace and his family returned to Penrith last year to be by his mother’s side, Soward spoke highly of his teammate’s drive to lead his junior club.
“He’s a fantastic family man. He’s got a beautiful wife and child out here and he loves the area,” he said.
“You can just see, when he speaks about coming back to Penrith, that he really wanted to be here.
“He wasn’t just coming here to go through the motions. He wanted to do something special.
“Now that we’re finally getting back on the field together, hopefully we can get on a run and get to the eight.”