Panther cubs part of Penrith plan
Based on how Penrith played in their season-opener against the Bulldogs last Sunday, it's safe to say their highly-vaunted five-year plan is going rather swimmingly.
But based on who Penrith played in their side, it seems their five-year plan is just about complete.
Coach Ivan Cleary handed two rookies – prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and winger George Jennings – their NRL debuts for the first game of the year, joining second-rower Bryce Cartwright and winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak as members of the club's premiership-winning Holden Cup side from 2013.
Throw in fullback Matt Moylan, prop Sam McKendry and halfback and skipper Peter Wallace, that's seven players who have come the sleeping giant that is Penrith's junior nursery.
Consider that giant awakened.
"It's just exciting to have those boys in. We had four locals out of our winning NYC team from two years ago. [And] they're all locals. It's our mandate at the club to bring players through our system," Cleary said post-game.
"We're still a developing team. We had a lot of players there [on Sunday] either in their first year or second year of first grade. Matt Moylan's now becoming almost a senior member of our team, and it's only his third year of first grade. That's how we are."
Of the 17 players that took out the Panthers' first trophy in the under-20s competition, four played in Sunday's win over the Bulldogs, and another four players – Kieran Moss, Waqa Blake, Daniel Foster, and Andy Saunders – remain on the cusp of cracking into first grade.
The Panthers are so enamoured with Blake that they tied down the towering centre for two more years a fortnight ago, while two more players from that side – Kierran Moseley and James Roberts – played in Gold Coast's loss to the Wests Tigers last weekend.
All in all, there were six Panthers juniors that followed skipper and local product Wallace out onto the field last Sunday.
Campbell-Gillard, 21, said nothing made him prouder in his first game than hearing fans in the crowd cheer for the suburb he came from.
"When I was walking around out there, there were a lot of guys yelling, because I'm from Mount Druitt, 'Making Mount Druitt proud!' It gives you massive confidence, the ability to go out there and play for your fans," he said.
"Bryce, myself, George and Dallin all played in that  side. Bryce and Dallin got the opportunity last year to play first grade and George and I [on Sunday]. The system here is definitely on the up and there's more boys in the lower grades who are definitely on the verge of playing."
Jennings, whose younger brother Robert also trained with the NRL squad over the summer, scored his first try of his career when he was the recipient of a Jamie Soward 20-metre cutout in the first half.
"Just to see him play in the side... he should've played last year, but obviously he had an injury, was awesome," Campbell-Gillard said.
"But he's trained very well in the pre-season, his trials. He's super strong and to see him score [on Sunday] was outstanding."
Campbell-Gillard more than held his own against the Bulldogs' sizeable forward pack, almost cracking the 100-metre mark on debut, and giving Cleary plenty to think about when hitman Nigel Plum returns from an ankle problem.
"All I could think about was, 'Don't let in a try', basically. Just work hard in defence and obviously the backs can do all the work in attack," he said.
"To stop those big boys was pretty good, because [James] Graham, [David] Klemmer, [Aidan] Tolman, and [Sam] Kasiano, they're all big boys to stop. Once they get a roll on, it's very hard to stop them."