Lachlan Coote may be gone but Matt Moylan is facing a battle for the Panthers fullback spot on two new fronts in 2014. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
He is finally in the top squad and incumbent fullback Lachlan Coote is long gone, but Penrith young gun Matt Moylan admits he still hasn't gotten the No. 1 jersey at the club.
Moylan, 22, became the face of the problematic second tier salary cap saga last season, limited to just 13 first grade games.
The St Clair junior would not have featured at all if not for injuries to Coote and team-mate Wes Naiqama. But because Moylan wasn't in Penrith's top 25 players, the club was restricted by the cap in how many times it could play him.
Moylan returned to training this week as part of the Panthers' first grade squad, and admitted the drama surrounding his playing status affected his development.
"It was tough. I tried not to think about it too much and just left it in the hands of my manager and the club, but it was pretty frustrating," he told NRL.com.
"At least I know it's not going to happen again next year."
No sooner has he joined the top squad, however, that Moylan is now facing stiff competition for the fullback spot from new recruit Kevin Naiqama and rising 18-year-old star Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Moylan said that with his controversial rookie season behind him, the upcoming off-season was crucial for him to get bigger and better.
"The coaching staff want me to get stronger and fix things up with my defence," Moylan said. "In the games I did play last season, I can take a fair bit out of it in terms of getting used to the speed and physicality of it.
"I just need to step it up this season. Getting stronger and improving my fitness, those are my main goals over the pre-season."
Also key is the presence of Watene-Zelezniak, who Moylan believes will play first grader sooner rather than later.
"He's a strong ball runner, and he's pretty quick too. He's a bit of a freak," Moylan said. "He had a good year last year, helping the under-20s boys win the competition.
"I've just got to stay on my toes. There's a bit of competition, but that's a good thing. It makes you work harder."
Moylan says Penrith's strong recruitment drive, particularly the pick-ups of experienced halves Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace, will hasten his development.
"They'll be a massive help. They'll steer us around the park a bit more and once we get a bit of a combination going, then I think my footy and the team's footy will go to another level," he said.
"We had a pretty solid year last year. We finished the season strong so if we can build off that, then we're going well."