Monday is D-Day as Luai races the clock to return in preliminary final

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Monday is looming as D-Day for Jarome Luai as he prepares to test his dislocated shoulder for the first time during a Penrith contact session.

The Panthers No.6 and club medical staff quickly identified Friday’s preliminary final, to be played at Accor Stadium against Melbourne, as an optimistic return date when he went down in round 26 against Parramatta.

The fact the doctor was able to pop Luai’s shoulder straight back into its socket on the night was considered a big positive in terms of his rehabilitation.

Luai has completed a series of strengthening exercises on his left shoulder, undergone daily physiotherapy and started controlled wrestling sessions in the gym with some hand-picked players from the Panthers’ wider squad.

The NSW State of Origin star and Samoan international took part in his first full field session on Thursday night, but was spared any heavy contact.

He continues to feel pain in the muscles and joints around his shoulder, which may require surgery once the chase for a third straight title ends. Luai has told medical staff he continues to feel discomfort.

Jarome Luai grimaces in pain as he dislocates his shoulder against the Eels in round 26.Credit: NRL Photos

Coach Ivan Cleary will get a fair indication if Luai is ready to return in the next 24 hours, which will also make it easier on back-up half Jack Cogger to mentally prepare.

The biggest challenge for Luai will be moving his shoulder into extreme and involuntary positions, something he will be required to do on Monday.

He underwent physiotherapy on Friday, was given his first full day off on Saturday and will return to training on Sunday when the premiers will do a light field session.

Penrith head physio Pete Green said everything had gone to plan thus far with Luai, but the only way to get a definitive answer was to see how he withstood being under genuine physical pressure.

The thought of Nelson Asofa-Solomona being shifted back to the same edge as Luai was not lost on some at the club.

Panthers star Jarome Luai at training as he looks to make a miracle comeback in Friday’s preliminary final.Credit: Panthers

“He’s doing really well with everything we have set out for him so far, but we’ve purposely held him back from that really uncontrolled physical stuff,” Green said.

“Until he gets through that, we won’t know. It’s looking pretty good he will play, but it’s unfair to say either way.

“Romy is a senior player, so I’d say the final decision will come down to how he feels. It will be a conversation for him and Ivan.”

Cleary suffered the same shoulder injury in 2021 and was back playing in six weeks. If Luai plays next weekend, he will have returned in four weeks.

Green said at the time of Luai’s injury: “If he did this injury in the first half of the year, he’d be out six weeks. But given what is at stake, we’re trying to squeeze six weeks into three or four weeks.

“We’ll push him hard, but he’s going to be sore, and he will be in a lot of pain. The pain will be the one thing that could stop him.”

Meanwhile, Penrith have begun filming another finals documentary, which will only be shown if the club wins a third straight premiership.

A lot of the footage has already focused on Luai and his recovery, including the Friday after the Eels game when he underwent scans.

Stream the NRL premiership 2023 live and free on 9Now.

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