Wade Graham: A Panther for life?

Penrith's search for a long-term solution to their halves dilemma is one step closer to fulfilment with boom youngster Wade Graham declaring today that he wants to stay a Panther for life.<br><br>As the 18-year-old prepares for the biggest game of his career tonight against childhood hero Darren Lockyer, Graham hit out at claims he had wanted out of the club when left out of first grade by coach Matthew Elliott at the start of the season.<br><br>“It was all crap,” Graham told NRL.com today. “It was taken out of context and was completely blown out of proportion.”<br><br>Graham said interest from Melbourne was one-sided and he had never considered walking out on his team-mates. <br><br>“Yes there was some interest from Melbourne and that’s what was put out there, but if anyone had bothered to ask me I would have told them I was happy to go back to under-20s,” he said.<br><br>“Obviously I was disappointed that I didn’t make the side – but what can you do? You’ve just got to go back and play some good footy.<br><br>“I was pretty disappointed by all of that when it came out and the backlash from it because I just wanted to play football.<br><br>“I was never unhappy with Penrith – and I never want to leave.”<br><br>Graham’s comments are a welcome boost for the Panthers – who also re-signed captain Petero Civoniceva for another season earlier this week – ahead of tonight’s clash with the in-form Broncos at CUA Stadium.<br><br>Despite last week’s narrow loss to the Storm, Penrith will fancy their chances of an upset following some impressive performances over the past month and Elliott has responded by naming Graham at five-eighth to make his run-on season debut.<br><br>“It’s always good to get a start,” he said.<br><br>“I’m still not sure if it’s definite yet because I’ve been named the past three weeks and have started from the bench anyway, but he (Elliott) hasn’t said anything to me yet this week so that’s a good sign.<br>“I’m just happy to be playing first grade again – as long as I’m in the side I’m happy.”<br><br>Asked about his clash with Lockyer, Graham was enthusiastic.<br><br>“He’s someone I’ve looked up to since he switched to five-eighth a few years ago.<br><br>“He’s a great player and he’ll ask us plenty of questions.<br><br>“But Brisbane have strengths all across the park.<br><br>“You look out wide and see Hodges and Israel Folau, then you look at the halves and see Locky and Peter Wallace.<br><br>“It’s going to be test for us but I can’t wait.”<br><br>It was only three weeks ago that Panthers coach Matthew Elliott found his tenure at the club in question following successive losses to Cronulla and the Bulldogs. But wins over Manly and Wests Tigers, a strong performance against the Storm last week and the growing influence of youngsters Graham, Lachlan Coote and Masada Iosefa has boosted the club’s confidence and suggests the Panthers may be on the rise once more.<br><br>“We came into the side and we’ve just loved every opportunity we’ve had since we got there,” Graham said.<br><br>“Whether or not that has sparked the older guys I don’t know.<br><br>“It was a big change when Matty came to Penrith – the club went through a change itself – so I’m pretty sure it’s been evolving over time and everything is starting to come together now.<br><br>“I mean, I just love coming to training and seeing all of my mates there every day.<br><br>“Me and Cootey have been in almost every side together as we’ve come through and the same with Jenko (Michael Jennings) so knowing that you’ve played with them and seeing them kill it in the NRL just gives you confidence.<br><br>“It makes you feel like you belong.”<br><br><br><b>Late News:</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Manly are sweating on the fitness of centre Steve Matai, who injured his neck two weeks ago. He will undergo a final fitness test tomorrow;<br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Nathan Hindmarsh is in doubt for Parramatta for Sunday’s clash with the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium;<br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Injured Warrior Lance Hohaia is an outside chance of being called in to the squad for the first time since injuring his knee in Round 1. If ruled out both he and fullback Wade McKinnon are expected to return next week.<br>