Young Panthers ready for finals tilt
Penrith back-rower Isaah Yeo believes the bond he and his fellow Panthers stars share will benefit them ahead of the first finals campaign of their young careers.
Yeo was one of five current Panthers first graders who won the Holden Cup at the club three years ago.
While Reagan Campbell-Gillard was ruled out for the season with a broken back last weekend, Yeo is set to be joined by long-time teammates Bryce Cartwright, Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Only Watene-Zelezniak has since played finals football from the team who won the Under 20s premiership over a red hot New Zealand Warriors outfit.
Yeo may have joined the now New Zealand international if not for a syndesmosis injury suffered at training just a month out from the Panthers' last finals run in 2014.
"One thing us younger blokes who have come through the system have in common is that we all have level heads. We're all pretty calm and very humble which helps," Yeo said.
"It helps because we have all played together for so long. It shows sometimes on the field because we know what the other is going to do.
"We can identify each other's idiosyncrasies which helps. It's nice we have been able to stick so close together, come through the grades and be such close friends."
Watene-Zelezniak added: "When I played in 2014 it was probably one of the best few weeks of my life.
"I was still learning everything at that point, I'm still learning at this time now, so the fact I'm heading back into finals football is awesome."
The Panthers lack of finals experience is evident throughout coach Anthony Griffin's current 17.
Only Watene-Zelezniak, skipper Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour and Jeremy Latimore have played finals football for the Panthers.
Otherwise Peter Wallace (eight finals appearances for Brisbane), Trent Merrin (six for St George Illawarra), Suaia Matagi (one for the Roosters) and Chris Grevsmuhl (one for Souths) round out Penrith's inexperience.
"We'd be fielding one of youngest averaged aged teams in the NRL so obviously there's not a lot of finals experience there. It probably makes it more exciting for us," Yeo said.
"We don't know what to expect which is a good thing. Though we have the likes of Peter Wallace and Trent Merrin here too, who are a calming influence over us."
The Panthers still have a huge task ahead of them in the form of the Sea Eagles on Sunday night before the club's likely elimination final clash with the Bulldogs.
Only last year, the Sea Eagles recorded a Round 26 win over the Sharks to ruin their chances of a top four finish.
Back in Round 14 of the Telstra Premiership, the Panthers had to overcome a 24-4 deficit to record a seven-point win over the luckless Sea Eagles.
"It's nice not having to rely on other results," Yeo said of the Panthers' confirmed finals berth.
"We want to head into the finals with good form. Over the past six, seven weeks we have done that. We don't want to have poor game heading into the finals.
"We'll be fielding the best possible side we can because we understand Manly will be out to finish their season on a high."