Cleary upbeat despite horror injuries
Penrith's injury crisis plunged to new depths on Friday with three more players likely to miss the rest of the season after picking up injuries in a costly 22-16 win over the Bulldogs.
The Panthers regained second spot on the NRL ladder but it came at a massive cost. Workhorse middle man Elijah Taylor tore his ACL in the first half of the victory, while fellow second-rower Bryce Cartwright (sydnesmosis) and veteran prop Brent Kite (pectoral) also failed to finish the game.
"Elijah's going to be season and the other two a fair bit of it probably. I don't know. [It] looks like they're long-term. Let's hope they're wrong," coach Ivan Cleary said post-game.
It's a cruel blow for the second-placed Panthers, who are already without the services of halfback and skipper Peter Wallace (ACL), as well as utility Tyrone Peachey (pectoral), for the rest of their 2014 campaign.
But Cleary remained positive on the opportunity that now presents itself for the club's depth.
"We seem to be losing a few guys that are high up in the rankings, both leaders in their own right. ET (Taylor) has been phenomenal this year for us," Cleary said of the loss of Taylor and Kite.
"But hey, you know what, that's life. There's obviously a reason for this happening. We showed tonight that we got over the loss of our captain last week. We had Tyrone Peachey go two weeks before that.
"We're going to be asked to do it again. One door closes, another one opens. [There's a] couple of boys out there tonight rubbing their hands together because they get another opportunity and that's what it's all about."
Down to just 14 fit bodies in the final 15 minutes of the game, the Panthers did just enough to hold off a fast-finishing Bulldogs side that would have rued their four disallowed tries in the first half after scoring the final three of the game.
New captain Jamie Soward described Friday night's victory as one of those "wins you remember".
"I came out publicly during the week and said I wasn't happy with my own form so I wasn't going to speak about the team. It was about everyone getting ready themselves for tonight," he said.
"Like [Ivan] said, we had a lot of injuries there with that period, it just shows the culture that he's built the last two years and everyone's followed from top to bottom. We hung tough. These are the wins you remember."
The injury to Kite could force Cleary to recall forgotten prop Tim Grant, who hasn't appeared in first grade since Round 10, while rookie Isaah Yeo is likely to be given more action as well.