Injury-hit Panthers confident in fill-ins
Penrith may not have had a lot of luck on the injury front so far this year but the club does have a luxury in its depth with young-gun Dylan Edwards and former Dragons hooker Mitch Rein each called up from reserve grade to plug the latest gaps and winger Josh Mansour making his eagerly-awaited injury comeback.
An ankle injury to the luckless Bryce Cartwright and a groin strain to an arguably even unluckier Peter Wallace – who was denied a fairy-tale Origin return by the untimely injury – have resulted in Rein being called up for a club debut and skipper Matt Moylan shifting to five-eighth with Edwards taking over at the back.
While it's a blow to lose two key playmakers so close together, the calibre of replacements has put teammates at ease ahead of a crunch game against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
"'Moysa' is a natural ball player there so I think he'll fit in well there and he's played there in State of Origin in the halves," prop Rreagan Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com.
"He's working really hard and he'll probably take on that role really well and then we've got Dylan Edwards out the back who I think is a really good talent.
"He's just one of those guys that doesn't lose energy, he's always there, first one to come to training and last one to leave. He's a good kid, high quality kid and I'm backing him to have a good game."
Fellow big-man Leilani Latu agreed.
"It'll be good to see Moylan at five-eighth and credit to Dylan, he's been really patient with his chances," Latu said.
"Every chance that he's been given he's taken it with both hands and he's shown everyone why he's been chosen by the coach. It's just another credit to him that he gets to start now in his favourite position and hopefully we get the best out of him this weekend."
The 21-year-old is averaging 175 metres and five tackle busts from his two games this year, with one try. Penrith have won one of his two games and lost the other by a point.
"I can't rap him up enough," Isaah Yeo said of Edwards.
"His pre-season, I've never seen anything like it. He's just a remarkable athlete. He's a very mature young man and whenever he's played for us this year he's been one of our better players. We know he'll do a good job for us."
Yeo also had plenty of praise for Rein ahead of his first game for the club.
"He's been outstanding in reserve grade," Yeo said.
"It's very disappointing that Peter Wallace isn't playing [but] I guess it's a great opportunity for Mitch. I know he's been looking forward to playing first grade for Penrith and to be given this opportunity now with Peter Wallace out for four to six weeks, we're looking forward to seeing how he goes. He's a really good mate of mine and I can't wait to play with him."
Throw in the return of tackle-busting sensation Mansour and things aren't looking too gloomy for the mountain men.
"[Mansour] coming back to the side is a massive boost," Yeo – himself making an injury return after one week out with an ankle issue – said.
"I wouldn't be expecting too much just yet, it's his first game back after about six months.
"It will take a bit of getting used to, getting back into the rhythm, and all that sort of stuff but I still think he'll be outstanding. Especially when he gets his match fitness up. It will probably take a few weeks to get back to his best but I can't wait."
It's a rapid return for the 2016 NSW Origin and Kangaroos winger, with a donor graft in his ACL reconstruction seeing him back barely seven months after the injury ended his Four Nations campaign in November.
Campbell-Gillard said Mansour's tough carries coming out of territory would be welcomed back by the Panthers big men.
"He's not looking forward to those carries but we've told him we probably need him to come in and do those hit-ups so he's done everything possible to get himself right," Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com.
"We're getting him at a good time now, about halfway through the season and he's one of those players that will come in straight away and do his 20 or 22 hit ups. In tough times when we need him he'll pop up somewhere and he'll be there. It's good to have him back, we're pretty excited."
Added Latu: "The big metre-eater is back and I can't wait for him to come back. He's a massive morale boost, he's never changed. Even on the sidelines he was feeling the pain as if he was still playing with us so I'm excited for him to come back into our team."