Panthers face five-eighth crisis
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is facing a halves crisis after fill-in five-eighth Tyrone Peachey suffered a possible season-ending pectoral injury in his side's thrilling 35-34 victory over Brisbane on Monday night.
Having already lost winger Josh Mansour to an ankle injury midway through the first half, Penrith's night turned into chaos when Peachey followed him up the tunnel not long after.
And if going down to 15 men wasn't bad enough, a Penrith fan had to be stretchered off and taken to hospital after breaking his ankle in a game of 'Big Ball Bash' during the halftime festivities. Another limped off with a broken shoulder.
Cleary was upbeat about the early prognosis of his winger post-game, but he was less positive on the health of his in-form utility.
"Yeah, Peach don't look too good. [It] looks like he's done a pec. That's not good news," Cleary said.
"Josh, he'll be more hopeful that it won't be too long. I'm not too sure yet. It doesn't look like a good one for Peach. We're not having much luck at the moment."
Penrith led 12-0 after just six minutes before the two injuries helped Brisbane wrestle back momentum and even gain an 18-12 advantage on Jake Granville's 35th minute scurry from dummy half.
"I think [the injuries] had something to do with it. [We] lost Josh and Peach in the first half and I guess regular subs we would make, we couldn't make," Cleary said.
"We had some guys out there, Sika Manu was crook all week and we were planning to get him off fairly early tonight and he had to stay out there. So there was a little bit of that.
"It was just one of those games where whoever had the ball could generate some momentum, some penalties, repeat sets... they looked likely. And that's how the game went I think."
However a scintillating try to winger Kevin Naiqama, set up by a Jamie Soward line break and Benji Marshall-esque flick pass, on the stroke of halftime proved to be a turning point.
"We were paddling there. It was a really big play, and it give us a bit of a shot in the arm at halftime," Cleary said.
"Those injuries threw us off course a bit there. And just to set it up, [an] excellent try just on halftime. It just allowed us to steady ourselves a bit. It was a tough night. I'm just happy to get the two points."
It was the second game in a row Penrith has had to overcome adversity, having put the Tigers to the sword a week prior despite finishing the game with just 14 men.
"That's three games now actually. We weren't able to get the win in Auckland," Cleary said.
"It's a long season. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don't. You do have to try and overcome it. Once those boys went down, and we had a few other guys knocked around and had to basically carry injuries through the second half... I'm not sure how we're going to scrape up for a five-day turnaround [against the Roosters on Saturday].
"After all that, we really needed to get two points. Especially getting out to such a big lead in the second half, it would've been a hard press conference if we didn't win."
With halfback and skipper Peter Wallace (ankle and knee) still another five weeks away from returning, and back-up playmaker Isaac John (achilles) out for the season, Cleary could be forced to turn to rookie ball-playing forward Bryce Cartwright, who slotted in at pivot on Monday night.
Other options include NSW Cup players Will Smith or Tom Humble.
"Credit to young Bryce Cartwright, he come on, did that job tonight, [and] didn't look out of place," Cleary said.
"Bryce has played a lot of halves in his junior football and is just one of those guys like Peach who can play most spots.
"Whether we do that or not, I'm not too sure. I'm just going to have to sift through the damage. Obviously our NSW Cup team's doing well. This is why it's important to have depth – at times like this. I guess we'll have a think about it and come up with the right option."