Masked Panther: Brave Merrin to take on Knights

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In the midst of Penrith’s horror injury crisis there is finally some good news: Trent Merrin will play against Newcastle on Friday night despite undergoing surgery on his injured finger just five days ago. Merrin posted an x-ray of a scan on Instagram, revealing two bones in his index finger completely misaligned. After the surgery, Merrin said he’d be back “sooner rather than later”. He wasn’t wrong, with Anthony Griffin naming him on Tuesday and Merrin determined to play to help alleviate some of the injury pain being experienced at the foot of the Mountains.

Unfortunately the news is not so good for Moses Leota, who will miss the next eight weeks after tearing a pectoral muscle against the Cowboys last Friday.

As I revealed a few weeks ago, Kaide Ellis’ drop back to reserve grade a week after making his NRL debut was not form-related. Panthers boss Phil Gould has confirmed an issue with the club’s top 30 forced Anthony Griffin to drop Ellis back to the ISP. “We couldn’t play him the next week because Jack Hetherington was available and he’s a top 30 player,” Gould said on the ‘Six Tackles With Gus’ podcast. “Kaide Ellis can’t play until you exhaust everyone in the top 30.” The good news is that with Tim Browne’s retirement, Ellis has now been moved into the top 30.

The Panthers will wear a special Indigenous jersey designed by Glen Liddiard in the match against the Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium. Liddiard, who is the club’s Indigenous Welfare Officer, designed the jersey as an artistic tribute to the Indigenous history, geography and culture of the Penrith area and regional NSW. While largely inheriting the design of last year’s Indigenous jersey, the 2018 jersey features the totem of the Waradjuri region on the chest. It is recognition of Panthers’ commitment to fostering rugby league talent in regional NSW. The jersey is for sale in the Panthers Shop and online.

The future of Sam McKendry is very much up in the air. While the unlucky 28-year-old prop has vowed to fight back and return from a third ACL injury, the Panthers are quietly hopeful he may decide to hang up the boots. The club will support whatever decision he makes but there’s no doubt they’re concerned about the likelihood of a successful return given his history of knee injuries.

There’s talk that the Panthers are keen on signing off-contract Manly winger Akuila Uate. The 30-year-old is likely to be let go by Manly at the end of the season and the Panthers may see him as a potential replacement for Josh Mansour, who is rated a 50/50 chance of staying with Penrith. Uate would also offer significant depth to Penrith’s backline, which has been tested by injury this year.

Penrith’s trip to Bathurst last week, despite the result of the NRL match, was a major success. The community really embraced the players, and a record crowd of 10,287 turned out at Carrington Park in chilly conditions on Friday night. We spotted the staff of the famous Knickerbocker Hotel decked out in all types of Penrith jerseys – it was great to see.

It’s taken less than a handful of games for young forward Jack Hetherington to find himself in trouble with the NRL judiciary. The 21-year-old was cited for a Dangerous Contact charge after a tackle on Shaun Fensom last Friday night, and submitted an early guilty plea. He’ll miss Friday’s clash against the Knights but will be free to play against Wests Tigers next week. Hetherington has a poor record with the judiciary in the lower grades and it’s something he’ll need to get out of his game.

Panthers skipper Peter Wallace isn’t just a great teammate in the NRL, he’s also proved to be a fantastic mentor and role model to Penrith’s Premiership-winning SG Ball team this season. Before a kicking session recently with the side’s young halves, Wallace arrived 30 minutes earlier to hang out and chat with the boys. “At 4.30 on a Wednesday afternoon, all I could see was my 16 and 17-year-old halves hanging out with the NRL captain – how good is that?” SG Ball coach, Jamie O’Keefe said. “Then on top of that, he teaches them how to kick which is even better!” This certainly wouldn’t be happening at many other clubs in the NRL.

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