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Yeo backs Panther cubs to handle the heat

Isaah Yeo is confident the baby-faced Panthers can rise to the occasion in 2020 after some promising signs this year.

The median age of the 28 players currently in Penrith's top 30 squad is 23.3, with incumbent captain James Tamou the oldest at 30.

The average NRL games per Panthers squad member is 46.6 – a figure swelled by Tamou's 245 appearances.

Yeo, Dean Whare, Josh Mansour and Api Koroisau are the only other men to have played 100-plus matches.

Despite the inexperience, Yeo said the influx of youngsters has increased the "excitement and enjoyment" around the club.

Penrith deployed nine debutants in 2019 and Yeo believes their injection gave life to the Panthers' ultimately disappointing campaign.

"I thought the youth we brought in last season really helped us out in the middle part of the year," Yeo told NRL.com last Thursday.

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"We went on that [seven-match winning] run and that was when Ivan [Cleary] blooded a few rookies like Brent Naden, Mitch Kenny, Brian To'o.

"I thought it was really good for us. There's a really good feel around the club at the moment.

"It's only a week-and-a-half into pre-season so there's still a little bit to go yet but it's a really good feel."

Yeo only recently turned 25 but is one of the club's genuine leaders coming into his seventh NRL season.

The Dubbo junior has stood in as skipper on occasions but said he isn't actively seeking the job on a full-time basis.

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Halfback Nathan Cleary has been touted to take over from Tamou – and Yeo endorsed the qualities of both men.

"Obviously Nathan Cleary is continuing to grow as a leader in this group," Yeo said.

"But Jimmy Tamou did a fantastic job last year and then we've got a couple of the young ones coming through.

"There's a bunch to pick from. It's always a good thing having leaders in the group and we can all talk to each other and help each other where we can."

Having cut his season slightly short to undergo shoulder surgery in August, Yeo is progressing well and should be cleared for wrestling training around Christmas.

He was restricted to 18 games last year – the first time he hasn't featured in at least 20 fixtures since he was a rookie in 2014 – and is determined to get back to his best.

"[The shoulder injury] was a bit of annoyance, it bugged me for the whole year but hopefully they've got it all fixed now and there are no dramas next year," Yeo said.

"I didn't get to play every game last season which is a goal of mine each year. I obviously want to improve on that.

"And I thought my performances weren't as good as what I know I can do. I'm just looking to perform and be consistent for this team and help where I can."