‘‘But I’m looking forward to it,’’ Cleary told the Herald as he attended a signing session at Penrith Plaza. ‘‘There are opportunities for other people now and we have to make those combinations gel quickly. With the structure we’ve got here it should be fairly easy for whoever slips in.
‘‘‘Dyl’ is one of my best mates, and to see him put in such a big pre-season and go down like that is disappointing. He’s easily the fittest here and from that aspect it’s [extra] disappointing. He gives 110 per cent every week, which is what the fans and the players who play alongside him want each week.
‘‘Caleb would be the front-runner at this stage. He’s a hard worker and made over 300m when he made his NRL debut. He’s a great player and valued member of this team.’’
Edwards was dropped due to form in the early rounds last year before he returned and was one of the club’s best. This time last summer he had been linked to a move to Canberra before they signed Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Edwards is off contract at the end of this season, but the ankle injury will not impact on his bargaining power with Penrith, who are keen to keep the fullback long term. Preliminary talks between the club and Edwards’ camp have already started. His likely replacement, Aekins, is another player off contract at the end of the year. Aekins was originally not slated to trial against Wests Tigers on Saturday night but will now start at fullback.
Daine Laurie has impressed during the summer, but is only on a development contract and under NRL rules cannot be selected until the second half of the season.
Cleary says he is ready to step up and lead the side without the experienced Maloney by his side. The captaincy, however, was never on his radar, nor was it offered to him this year. ‘‘Jimmy Tamou is the right man for the job at the moment, and hopefully somewhere down the track I will put my hand up for it,’’ he said.