Confident Cartwright just getting started
Easily the best Panther on the field for the second time in three weeks, back-rower Bryce Cartwright has earned a glowing appraisal from the rugby league community following his show-stealing performance in Penrith's 20-6 win over the Rabbitohs.
With Panthers club legend Mark Geyer calling Cartwright's performance against the reigning premiers a "breakout performance" on Triple M, the 20-year-old was chuffed by such compliments as he continues his rise as a force to be reckoned with on Penrith's right edge.
Starting his third consecutive game in the back row, Cartwright produced 226 metres as well as several flick passes which led to tries in an otherwise amazingly well-rounded performance.
Considering Cartwright didn't have a pre-season after suffering a serious syndesmosis injury last year which cut his debut season short, his feats of late certainly become even more amazing.
"It's not the 20s anymore and I'm not treating it like that. I owe a lot of things to all the older boys for helping me out and the coaching staff," Cartwright said.
"I feel [my good performances are due to] just feeling more confident each week in what I'm doing and a lot more focused heading towards a game.
"That was the first 80 minutes I've played in the forwards in the NRL, so that was tough. But the body's feeling good. The weight's good and the ankle is feeling good – I'm slowly getting there."
His coach Ivan Cleary said post-game that he wasn't surprised by how far the St Mary's junior has come along this season.
"He's coming off a very big injury last year. What he's doing at the moment is a testament to him," Cleary said. "He's actually really improved as a professional and looking after himself."
Such professionalism was exemplified by Cartwright when he was dropped to NSW Cup early on in the season.
Admitting himself that the 'old Bryce' would've sulked if he was dropped in previous years, Cartwright instead took it on board and was back in first grade the very next week.
"Probably even last year if that happened I would've just sooked about it and carried on. But this year when it happened, I just wanted to work hard," Cartwright said.
"I went back and I was only there for one game. Fingers crossed [I don't go back], it was tough, but I just needed to put my head down and work hard."
While the likes of Tyrone Peachey, Sika Manu and Lewis Brown will continue to push for his spot in the back row moving forward, Cartwright said he has been ticking plenty of boxes of late as an unconventional forward.
Not afraid to link between the halves as a third ball-playing option for Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace to work alongside, Cartwright is content with freestyling in the middle of the paddock.
"I want to start and I want to play as many minutes as I can. That was definitely a goal of mine," Cartwright said. "I do enjoy coming off the bench too when the other team's tired. But I'm really enjoying starting the game and I really want to stay there."