The Masked Panther: Round 6

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Masked_panther_2016_WEBThere’s not many waves to catch in Penrith but surfing champion Sally Fitzgibbons isn’t letting that stop her cheer for the Panthers. The fiancé of Trent Merrin, who experienced his first win as a Panther last Sunday, Fitzgibbons made a surprise trip to Pirtek Stadium to cheer on her man. Merrin wasn’t even expecting the surfing stunner to be there but she managed to squeeze some time in between her work commitments. She was looking splendid in a Panthers jumper, but admits there’s still a special spot in her heart for her beloved St George-Illawarra Dragons.

Michael Jennings could well have been a Panther again in 2016. I’m told that his management sought out Penrith’s interest in bringing Jennings back to the foot of the Mountains when it was clear the Roosters were trying to offload him. The Panthers showed little interest and the local junior ended up at the Eels.

There’s rumours that James Segeyaro is ready to talk to other clubs about a deal for next season with indications that he may not be re-signed by the Panthers. The 2014 Hooker of the Year is off contact at the end of the year and is desperate to get back on the field so he can prove his wares to both the Panthers and other clubs. But whether ‘Chicko’ automatically gets the number 9 jumper when he’s fit to return is another thing altogether. Peter Wallace has done an extraordinary job at hooker since taking on the role and would be hard to shift from there at the moment.

Jamie Soward kicked his 500th career goal last weekend. That’s despite missing two conversions at the end of the game, one of which could have proved disastrous had the Panthers not bagged that miracle try on the buzzer. Soward admitted to Fox Sports after the game that he’ll need to work on his goal kicking leading into the match against the Cowboys on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Soward is looking forward to taking on Johnathan Thurston this Saturday night. “He’s the best. I like playing against JT… He’s the only player I watch every week. Regardless of where I am I make time to watch JT play,” Soward said.

Respected local lawyer Mark Mulock has been appointed as an independent Director on the Panthers Group Board for the next three years.

Panthers fans have rightly expressed concerns over a potential plan to move even more home games away from Penrith Stadium from 2019. As part of the NRL’s support for the State Government’s big stadium strategy, the Panthers Board has agreed in principle to take two home games to the refurbished Parramatta Stadium. The club is gambling on the fact that by helping out now, Panthers may win in the long run when the location for the promised outer western Sydney stadium is decided. It should be noted that current deals with Bathurst and Christchurch would have expired by the time 2019 comes around, so the Panthers may indeed still play 10 games at Penrith Stadium. The biggest fear I have is that the big stadium strategy is quite clearly destined to fail, and you’d have to wonder whether the outer western Sydney stadium will even go ahead if the rest of the network crashes and burns.

While the Panthers benefited from The Bunker’s intervention late in the game last Sunday, coach Anthony Griffin admits the expensive review set-up still has some issues. “I’m the same as most coaches – it’s Russian Roulette. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” he told the post-match press conference last Sunday. “The basic rules of the game are going out the window… but I’ll shut up now.” The media also asked Matt Moylan for his view, but Griffin quickly chipped in: “He’ll shut up now too.”

The incredible ratings for Fox Sports continues. Despite competition from free-to-air broadcaster Channel Nine, an incredible 244,000 people tuned in to watch the Eels play the Panthers last Sunday. The A-League continues to struggle with just 42,000 tuning in to watch the Wanderers play Central Coast last Friday evening.

Former Panthers CEO Justin Pascoe, who is now at the Wests Tigers, was in a meeting with Jason Taylor recently when his mobile phone rang. The man on the other end? Former Panthers coach Ivan Cleary. Talk about awkward!

A very special guest will be in town this Saturday night for the Panthers v Cowboys name. ARL Commission Chairman John Grant will be in attendance in a rare visit to a suburban ground.

Don’t forget I am keen to hear your Panthers news and gossip. Just send an email to maskedpanther@westernweekender.com.au. I’d also love to hear from you if you’ve spotted a Panthers player somewhere around town!

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