Cleary confounded by Chico's role
Panthers co-captain Kevin Kingston faces a battle to force his way back into Penrith's high-flying 17 with livewire No.9 James Segeyaro sparking a point-scoring spree since coming into the starting side four weeks ago.
A foot injury has kept Kingston out since Round 9 as the Panthers have won four straight to climb to the top of the competition table, all with Segeyaro starting in the hooking position and playing 80 minutes in each game.
Nicknamed 'Chico', his opening try against the Titans on Saturday night was his fourth consecutive four-pointer and his 110 running metres the third time this season he has topped the ton.
With the signing of Rabbitohs hooker Apisai Koroisau and announcement from coach Ivan Cleary that the 2014 season will be Kingston's last, the 10-year veteran also faces an uncertain future in Cleary's short-term plans given the form of Segeyaro.
"It has changed a bit, definitely," Cleary said of Segeyaro's influence of the team's game-plan. "It's given us some flexibility in terms of our interchange which has been handy the last two weeks because we've lost an outside back in the first 20 minutes the last two weeks. Having Lewie Brown on the bench has enabled us to bring him on and play him in the centres.
"What we do in the next few weeks I guess we'll wait and see. James has put four games together of 80 minutes now and he's playing pretty well so I'm pretty happy with how that's working at the moment but it's a long way to go."
Prior to 2014 Segeyaro had started in just four of 57 career NRL games for the Cowboys and Panthers and now that he has been given a month of life in the run-on side the 24-year-old is eager to continue.
In the four games with Segeyaro in the starting side the Panthers have averaged 33 points per game in an undefeated month of football with an assignment at home against the Dragons next Saturday awaiting them next.
"I enjoy starting; I'd rather start than come off the bench," Segeyaro said. "It's a good way to get in the game, you don't have to come on at a hundred miles an hour and it's something that I've always set out to do, play 80 minutes.
"I'm just happy Ivan gave me the opportunity and complements to Ronnie Palmer and the training staff for getting me fit and ready to go and just happy to be playing 80 and try to be as consistent as I can and get the boys getting forward.
"I knew I could do it but it's actually getting through it. As soon as I got through the first one I just wanted to keep the ball rolling and try to be consistent and keep doing what I'm doing.
"I've got to give a big rap to all the boys that help me out, especially the boys in the middle. Tonight was a very, very physical game and the whole 80 they kept coming at us and they're a big pack so plenty of praise to our big boys in the front row and on the edges.
"I reckon we stuck it to them and a couple of tries came from our defence."
Even with the announcement of Kingston's imminent retirement, the signing of Koroisau and continued development of Kierran Moseley in Penrith's table-topping NSW Cup team gives the Panthers a tantalising triumvirate of No.9s for the future that Segeyaro is excited to be a part of.
"Api Koroisau, I love watching Api play," Segeyaro said of the Rabbitohs 21-year-old who signed a two-year deal with Penrith commencing in 2015. "He's a gun and going to be one of the superstars of the future, he's very footy smart. It's going to be good for him to come to the club and can't wait for him to come and for me and him to have a combination.
"In saying that we've got a good young bloke in Kierran Moseley so it's going to be a good battle but it's healthy to have that competition."