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Why long, painful wait could lead to a swift finals return for Sorensen

But few would have predicted he would be ready for the second week of the finals, and now the question is whether Cleary will gamble on playing the forward only a fortnight after the injury.

Sorensen has been named on Penrith’s bench for the game, tipping Spencer Leniu out of the 17. He has returned to training and will escalate contact work later in the week before the do-or-die clash in Mackay on Saturday.

Nathan Cleary and Scott Sorensen celebrate another Panthers win.

Nathan Cleary and Scott Sorensen celebrate another Panthers win.Credit:Getty Images

Thrown an NRL lifeline by the Panthers with a cut-price deal in January, Sorensen has impressed Cleary and the Panthers coaching staff so much they offered him a two-year extension.

“I thought his first few opportunities he was good and you would say, ‘that’s a good performance’,” Panthers legend Royce Simmons said. “But his last half-dozen games have been really top shelf.

“He’s gradually built into the team and got a bit of confidence out of it. He’s brought some controlled aggression, some really strong runs and some really good hits, which have straightened some blokes up. You’re seeing a lift with the first few tackles he makes and carries with the ball.

“I’m sure they won’t play him unless he’s ticked every box.”

The Panthers are aiming for a spot in the grand final qualifier against minor premiers Melbourne, having been relegated to their side of the draw after a shock loss to South Sydney last week.

Dylan Edwards (foot) and Moses Leota (calf) have been named for their returns alongside Sorensen, with a decision to be made on all three closer to game day.

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Asked about his injury, Sorensen told the Panthers website: “Coming from the field they did try to put it back in. They were trying to be gentle with it for my sake, but at the same time trying to put it back in as hard as they could. There was no way that was going to happen.

“It was difficult [to stay positive], but once I knew the fracture wasn’t there I started looking at it a lot more positively. I was slowly trying to bring the weeks down from 10 to eight to six and hopefully less and less.”

And now it could be as little as two as a desperate Penrith try to keep their season alive.

Meanwhile, Leota has given the Panthers a huge boost before their elimination final by signing a two-year extension to stay until the end of 2024.

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