Panthers powerhouse sets sights on World Cup

With Penrith's season flailing giant prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard made it his personal mission to carry the team forward and his ultimate reward may be a maiden call up to the Kangaroos for the Rugby League World Cup next month.

Although his team bowed out for 2017 with a 13-6 loss to the Broncos on Friday night Campbell-Gillard's growing reputation was further enhanced with a towering display that yielded 166 run metres, 49 tackles and his side's lone try in a 72-minute performance.

After six weeks coming off the bench to great effect, Campbell-Gillard returned to the starting team in Round 26 and continued to grow in stature.

In a sure sign that he is in the frame to win a place in the Australia squad for the World Cup, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said he would have been selected in the Prime Minister's XIII had the Panthers fallen to Manly in Week One of the finals.

"We had him pencilled in [for the PM's XIII team] just in case the Panthers didn't get through last weekend, but they did, which is great that he's continued his good form," Meninga said.

"I thought he was outstanding [against Manly]. He met the challenges [because] he said a few things during the week leading in to the game, and I thought he handled that really well.

"Backing up his words with actions is excellent.

"He's a big, aggressive player and he's a great person.

"I had him for the All Stars game at the beginning of the year so he's right in the picture."

Eligible to play for both Fiji and Australia, Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com that it would be a "no-brainer" to play for the Kangaroos for the first time and attributed any good form to his desire to lift Penrith into the premiership picture.

 

 
One of the premiership fancies prior to the season kicking off, after nine weeks the Panthers were languishing in 15th position with just two wins before they made a pledge that became very personal to the 24-year-old.

"After the fifth loss in a row we had a pretty good meeting and words were said that we had to try and fix things and that's what we did," said Campbell-Gillard.

"The way we were playing we were just going shift, shift, shift for the sake of doing it and not going forward so we addressed it.

"I believe it all starts with the front-rowers and I probably took that on board a bit personally to get the team going. That's all I want to do, impress my teammates.

"It all starts with the middles of how games go and if we're getting dominated and not going through the middle our outside backs can't do anything with it.

"That's the football that we play, we go through the middle and then our outside backs can do some crazy things with it."

Friday night's loss to the Broncos represented the second year in succession in which the Panthers have failed to get past the second week of the finals but with 10 members of the 17 aged 22 or younger Campbell-Gillard insists they are well positioned to go deeper in the years to come.

"People pretty much tipped us to win the comp and [we] probably got a little bit ahead of ourselves at the start of the season," he admitted.

"At the start of the season it was shocking and tough times but we turned it around and set a goal to try and keep our season alive and that's what we did.

"We're a young group. I think the average age is maybe 21 or 22 and the boys that are playing were racking up some game-time and obviously plenty of experience playing against some quality teams.

"I believe there's a premiership team here at the club and it all comes down to working hard.

"Games like this we can obviously learn from."