Nines set to give Sopoaga inside running
If there is one thing the Panthers aren't lacking, it's back-rowers. It's the reason why Penrith recruit Tupou Sopoaga is ready to grab his opportune selection at the Auckland Nines with both hands.
Lewis Brown, Tyrone Peachey, Adam Docker, Elijah Taylor and Bryce Cartwright make up the list of back-rowers not participating across the ditch, giving Sopoaga the opportunity to show his worth after coming to the club from the Sharks, where he made 16 appearances in the NRL.
"There are quite a few guys injured, so I just want to use the Nines as an opportunity to really plead my case and get the coaches to open up their eyes a little bit more in terms of the way I play and what I can do to help the team," Sopoaga told NRL.com.
"I just want to get some momentum from the Nines, heading into the trials, and really find my feet in terms of playing with new players and a new system."
Unwanted by the Sharks, Sopoaga has found greener, albeit humid, pastures out west in Penrith.
Labeling his departure from Cronulla as a "blessing in disguise", Sopoaga is excited by the system and style coach Ivan Cleary has employed at the Panthers.
Looking to well and truly show Panthers fans – and perhaps even those in charge at Cronulla – what he's capable of, Sopoaga is raring to go.
"I just love the way [the Panthers] play. It's awesome. It's deceiving to the point where people think we throw the ball around, but little do they know we play within our systems and play under good guidance in Ivan," he said.
"Last year Cronulla played with a tough, middle of the park, hard running game plan whereas I like to throw the ball around and use my skills. I feel Penrith is a really skills-based club and I know I can incorporate my skills into the system.
"I want to be able to express myself in the way that I've always been DNA'd. I guess I'm just looking at showcasing my talent."
Ensuring an edge back row role was his main preference when playing for the mountain men this season, Sopoaga hopes the open space at the Nines – his second appearance at the tournament – will encourage Cleary to utilise the 22-year-old once the NRL commences.
While Penrith are certainly well off in this department, Sopoaga is looking to star over teammates and fellow back-rowers Sika Manu and Ben Murdoch-Masila over the course of the coming weekend
"I loved the Nines [last year]. You get to throw the ball around. There's a lot more open space and you get to play in a lot more one-on-one situations, so it's a really good opportunity for me to show everyone what I can do," Sopoaga said.
"I can use my ball skills or my footwork [as an edge back-rower] to really take on the line so I can play off the halves or the centres. That's where I like to be situated ideally [in the NRL too]."