Nigel Wall, NRL.com
New Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has no concerns about strike weapon Michael Gordon getting the fans’ nod as the Panthers’ representative in the NRL All Stars team to take on their Indigenous counterparts in the season-opening showdown at Skilled Park on February 4.
With the first stage of NRL All Stars team voting set to close today, Gordon – who frustratingly missed most of last season with a serious knee injury that required a reconstruction – is polling strongly alongside centre Michael Jennings, who represented the Mountain Men in the All Stars game for the past two years.
“If he [Gordon] is the one that gets the nod, he’ll be getting my best wishes,” Cleary told NRL.com.
“It’s a real feather in anyone’s cap to be a part of that game… the couple of years it’s been in, the momentum is growing and everyone looks forward to that event on the calendar.
“It’s good for the players to be voted for by the public. It’s always nice for them to feel like the fans enjoy what they do and it’s a bit of a festival weekend and a good game to play in.”
Now fully recovered, Gordon is keen to add an All Stars cap to his burgeoning resume, which includes a berth on the wing for the New South Wales Blues’ State of Origin team last year.
And he revealed Penrith was “like a brand new club” under the new reign of Phil Gould and Ivan Cleary.
When told of current polling, Gordon said: “I must have lots of friends and family – I’m glad someone’s voting for me! But no, I’m over the moon to hear about that.
“I think since the game’s come in you’re just watching it thinking it looks like something fantastic to be a part of and if I got that chance I’d be more than happy.
“He [Jennings] has played in it the last couple of years, so hopefully he can step aside and let me have a go... hopefully!”
While coach Cleary said it was too early for him to make a call about who would fill the custodian’s role at the foot of the Blue Mountains, Gordon confirmed his desire to make the Penrith No.1 jersey his own.
“I’m not much of a goal-setter but that would be right up there at the moment – try and play fullback from the start of the year,” he said.
“There are a couple more blokes [Josh Mansour and Matthew Moylan] training with us who are all capable of playing fullback, so that’s only a good thing.
“Not a lot’s been said about that at the moment… I think that’ll all happen after Christmas. Now it’s just been about training hard, and lots of running.”
A renowned sharp-shooter in the goal-kicking stakes, Gordon said he’s keen to resume kicking duties – but admits just weeks ago he was ready to relinquish the role.
“I’ve been [back] kicking the last three weeks and when it first started it wasn’t so good – I was about to retire the kicking,” he said.
“But it’s coming along well now and everything’s back on track. [I’ll] probably put in a bit more practice than I was; I was probably slacking off a little bit, so [I’ll be] putting in the numbers again.”
Gordon said he had noticed the culture at Penrith had changed over the off-season.
“It started when Gus [Gould] came on board,” he said. “There’s a whole new environment out here and everything feels like we are heading in the right direction... there’s just a real good feeling out here.
“It just feels like a brand new club at the moment and everyone’s eager to put their front foot forward and have a good year.”
• The first stage of NRL All Stars team voting closes tonight; Stage Two voting opens midday December 27 and closes January 18, with the NRL All Stars side revealed on January 19.