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Panthers go back to NRL future with Luai

Penrith could get a glimpse of their future when youngster Jarome Luai re-unites with Nathan Cleary for the first time at NRL level on Thursday.

Luai, who came through the junior ranks with Cleary, will play his ninth NRL game against Parramatta in place of the suspended James Maloney.

The pair led Penrith to an under-20s premiership in 2015.

But it will be Luai's first game at the scrumbase with Cleary in first grade - a combination that coach Ivan Cleary has been eager to watch in action.

"Jarome's one guy I've really wanted to get into the team. He's got an infectious attitude, great kid, and plenty of ability," Cleary said.

"I'm certainly looking forward to his opportunity and seeing him take that."

Luai gave Panthers fans a taste of his potential when he claimed man-of-the-match honours in his first career start against the Warriors last year.

It is believed the 22-year-old was held in higher regard than Nathan before Ivan's son shot to stardom in his rookie season in 2016.

"I've been watching those two since they were playing Harold Matthews. They've played all the way through those junior teams," the coach said.

"So they definitely know each other's games. Hopefully they can just imagine it's Harold Matthews and get out there and have a bit of fun."

Laui's shot comes as the club's tumultuous season continued on Wednesday, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak being granted permission to talk to rival clubs.

His shock request to leave 18 months before his contract expires is the first sign of player unrest, an issue which Cleary vehemently denied this week.

But in a rare piece of positivity for the club, veteran prop Sam McKendry will make his return from a third knee reconstruction in reserve grade on Sunday.

"We're all crossing our fingers for Sam. He's had a wretched run, three knee recos in the last three years," Cleary said.

"He's worked so hard. Everyone loves him here. He's just about the longest-serving player, I think. We'll all be there behind him on Sunday."

© AAP 2019