Jennings brothers follow Michael's footsteps
For years, all they wanted to do was follow in his footsteps.
Which is a pretty hard thing to do considering he's Michael Jennings and, you know, he's an incumbent Kangaroo with the fast-twitch feet that would be just as hard to keep up with on a dance floor as the footy pitch. The bloke moves so fast his footsteps barely leave an imprint.
But if anyone was going to step where Jennings stepped, if there were any people out there capable of following the path out of western Sydney that Michael trailed, they'd have to be of the same flesh and blood.
And Penrith own two of them.
George Jennings, 21, is a left-side finisher with a strong fend who some predict may be better than Michael. Robert, 18, is an athletic marvel on the right side predicted to be better than George.
When Michael controversially left Penrith not long after the clock struck 12 in 2013 and ruined the childhood dream of all three appearing in the same backline, neither of the remaining Jennings brothers were quite sure what to do.
"Growing up, we always wanted to follow in his footsteps and be wherever he went. So it was pretty tough when he left, because we look up to him a lot," George told NRL.com.
One more year and they'd both have to make a decision: stay at Penrith or, like Michael, find greener pastures elsewhere. And it's not like the duo would've been lacking any suitors, either.
But when D-Day finally arrived, George and Robert did what any other good young brothers normally do: ask the eldest sibling for advice.
"He never forced anything on us, it was always up to us," George recalled. "We did go to him and asked for help. He still loves the club but he always told us, 'Just go where you're comfortable'."
And Penrith, Robert said, was where they're comfortable.
"We love this club because we grew up here. All of our mates and stuff are here," he said.
"Michael told us to make our own decisions, not to always look to him. The way he did it – and look at where he is now and what he's won – he did everything himself. He just told us to decide for ourselves. Me and George, we felt comfortable here. We love this club, so we decided to stay."
In the end, both George and Robert are signed on to be Panthers until the end of the 2016 season. By then, the hope is that they feature as two local juniors on either flank of the backline.
George, a NSW under-20s representative, was set for a promising 2014 season before an elbow injury during the Auckland Nines stole any chance of a first grade debut.
"The first couple of weeks it was really tough, especially because I could've gotten surgery straight away after the Nines," he said.
"But the surgeon said if I waited 12 weeks, it could heal without surgery. And after six weeks or eight weeks, they found out that it wasn't really healing properly so then I had to get surgery. It was pretty frustrating then.
"Two or three weeks later it was alright, I got over it and tried to do the best I could with rehab. It was pretty frustrating seeing everybody play, going to games and just watching. It was a pretty long year, but it's good now to get back and do a pre-season. I'm just looking forward to playing."
Robert had a successful season with the Panthers in the SG Ball side, made his debut in the Holden Cup and was selected for the Australian Schoolboys tour of Europe. But the youngest Jennings turned it down after taking an invitation from NRL coach Ivan Cleary to train with the first-grade team over the summer.
And already, Robert has caught the watchful eye of skipper Peter Wallace.
"A few young blokes have come up out of the -20s, the youngest Jennings is training with us now and he's looking really good," Wallace said.
"They're all good athletes in that family, but he looks really good."
Robert said hearing that from the club captain validated his decision to miss the experience of a lifetime with talent his own age.
"I used to watch [Wallace] a lot, especially when he played with my brother and when he made Origin," Robert said.
"To get a rap off him is good – especially him – it's a big thing. I made the decision not to go a week before they left for camp. I decided to stay because I had a few injuries this year and I just felt like it was the best option for me, you know, to get a good pre-season in and come fit and healthy the next year."