If you thought Penrith Panthers recruit Jed Cartwright would fit the mould of his dynamic older cousin, coach Garth Brennan has news for you.
“He is different to Bryce,” Brennan tells NSWRL.com.au. “I think it’s unfair to compare the two.”
The tapestry of Rugby League folklore is checkered with families that have passed extraordinary talent and successes through the generations – and at the foot of the mountains, there are few more renowned than the Cartwrights.
It started with Merv, who engineered the Panthers’ introduction to the top grade in 1967 and is one of the club’s founding fathers. Brothers David, Michael, Cliff and John Cartwright all spent seasons on end in Penrith colours, combining for more than 200 first grade appearances, before John was appointed assistant to VB Blues coach Laurie Daley in October. When John’s nephew Bryce burst onto the scene as a skilful, ball-playing second-rower in 2014, therefore, few observers out west were surprised.
Then came Jed: a Holden Cup prodigy for the Gold Coast Titans, who followed father John to the club before inking a three-year deal with Penrith in November. The weight of expectation – partly due to his junior successes and partly due to his name – on Jed is significant, but the man charged with breaking him into first grade believes it is warranted.
“Jed’s an exciting young prospect – he obviously comes from good breeding stock,” Brennan joked. “It’s someone I see a lot of potential in and I’m looking forward to coaching him.”
Brennan, who delivered the Panthers the 2014 Intrust Super Premiership NSW in his first season in charge, has been around the side long enough to see a wealth of talent progress to the NRL. He spent 2016 as an NRL assistant coach, but remembers the big names he worked with in his first stint in second-tier Rugby League.
“Last time I coached the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side, it had the likes of Bryce Cartwright, Issah yeo, Waqa Blake, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Leilani Latu,” Brennan says. “I’m looking forward to working with the next crop and getting some more Leilani Latus, Reagan Campbell-Gillards and some Bryce Cartwrights playing NRL.”
The next Bryce Cartwright, however, won’t be his younger cousin. As the 44-year-old explains, Jed has talent to burn, but is a different breed to the Origin Development Player.
“I worked with Bryce at the same age and he’s got a skill level that I haven’t seen too many… well, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as skilful as Bryce,” Brennan adds. “But Bryce didn’t run a line or hit a hole like Jed does. Jed’s more of a hole-runner, line-runner and very smart.
“He doesn’t have the bells and whistles that Bryce does, but he’s a different player and still exciting.”
Jed seems destined for an NRL debut at some point, with many tipping that day to come in 2017. He must first develop his trade in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, however, where the Panthers have a side full of future superstars.
“We’re not there to win the Intrust Super Premiership NSW, we’re there to develop these kids into NRL players and that’s shown over the past few years,” Brennan says. “A lot of those guys are straight out of the ’20s in the last two years and it’s exciting to work with the next new crop.
“I’ve obviously had 12 months away from (coaching the team) and I’ve come back and I feel like I have another lease on life. It’s exciting.”
With Brennan delivering a number of quality first graders over the past three seasons, Panthers fans have reason to be excited as well.