After an unusually unsuccessful year in boys’ junior representative competitions in 2017, the Penrith Panthers already look promising for the season ahead – and it could be thanks to a growing country contingent.
The fourth-placed Panthers were bundled out of the SG Ball finals in straight sets in 2017, while the Harold Matthews outfit missed out on the playoffs entirely for the first time in their history. Both sides returned to Panthers Stadium in fine fashion on Saturday, defeating Balmain 22-0 and 40-8 in the under-16s and 18s competitions respectively.
SG Ball captain Lindsay Smith, who begins his third season in the Panthers’ junior reps system, was impressed with the side’s first hit-out and is optimistic about their chances.
“We got off to a slow start in the first half and we needed to get it back together in the second half,” Smith tells NSWRL.com.au, “but we got a little bit of pressure and momentum and we held onto it.
“We’ve got a couple of the boys (who remain from last year), about five or six of us,” Smith adds. “But other than that all the boys are 18, there’s no 17-year-olds so we’ve got a pretty strong side and there’s a lot of talent.
“Hopefully that can go a long way.”
That talent, Smith explains, comes to Penrith from far and wide, with a portion of the team sourced from regional NSW and interstate. Among them are Forbes product Charlie Staines (shown in the video below), who wowed crowds with a classy hat-trick in the big win, and fellow Round-1 try scorer Thomas Farr, from the Rockhampton region.
“There’s a couple of country boys especially that have come down this year,” Smith says. “Some Queenslanders and some boys out from (NSW) bush, so they should have a huge impact on the side. Everyone’s really chipping in.”
The Panthers’ next task will be a road trip to the Canberra Raiders on Saturday. The Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup game will kick off at 11:30am, with the Harold Matthews and SG Ball at 12:45pm and 1:30pm respectively.