Youth flies the flag for Panthers

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Penrith's Holden Cup team beat Newcastle last week. Photo: Jeff Lambert / Penrith Panthers

Penrith may have walked away with their first Holden Cup minor premiership last weekend but Panthers coach Cameron Ciraldo admits the job is only half done.

After winning comfortably against the Knights 36-18 last Saturday afternoon, the Panthers were shocked to learn they had finished first past the post after competition leaders, North Queensland, lost a thriller to the lowly Gold Coast Titans later that day.

Penrith’s win put them in front of the Cowboys by just one competition point, leaving the North Queenslanders in second after 26 rounds.

Speaking with the Weekender, Ciraldo admitted his first year in coaching has been a wonderful ride but the season is far from over yet.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far, the boys have been really good and worked hard,” he said.

“All the staff have been on the same page, but we all know the job is only half done, so we’re hoping to go on with it in the next few weeks.”

After narrowly missing the finals last year, the Panthers will finally return to the post-season for the first time since winning the premiership in 2013 when they take on the fourth-placed Manly Sea Eagles this Saturday afternoon at ANZ Stadium.

If Penrith manage to defeat the Sea Eagles for the third time this year, they’ll earn a much-deserved week off and a place in the Holden Cup preliminary finals.

“We’re not thinking about what comes next, we’re just focused on this game against Manly,” Ciraldo said.

“We played the Sea Eagles twice this year and they are a really good team. I went out and watched them at Shark Park on Sunday and they put on a really good performance.

“One of their star players is Tom Trbojevic and he didn’t even play on Sunday and they still put 50 on the Sharks. He’ll add another dimension to their team, it will be a big test.”

Penrith have unearthed a number of future superstars during their return to dominance this season including captain Brent Naden, halfback Nathan Cleary, prop Oliver Clark and lock Tyrone May. However Ciraldo won’t be asking any of these players to do anything different when the finals roll around.

“I was reading a story about the seven big superstars of the U20’s and there wasn’t one Penrith player named,” he said.

“We have some very good players but the strength of our squad is our depth.”

Meanwhile, Penrith’s NSW Cup team plays Newcastle on Sunday afternoon in an elimination finals match.

– Nathan Taylor

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