Walsh dumped to reserve grade

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Luke Walsh was supposed to face the mammoth task of lining up against one of the world’s best players, Johnathan Thurston, in Townsville this weekend.

Instead, he’ll have to do his homework on Illawarra Cutters halfback Josh Drinkwater.

Walsh was today sensationally dropped to reserve grade by Panthers coach Ivan Cleary as he desperately attempts to save the club’s faltering season.

The 25-year-old’s place in the first grade team will be taken by Blake Austin, who trialled well in the number seven jumper in Bathurst earlier this year.

Ironically, he told the Weekender after the trial against the Tigers: “I don’t think I am going to pressure Walshy too much but it was good to get through the game with a win and with no injuries.”

Austin lines up alongside Tom Humble to form one of the most inexperienced halves combinations in the NRL.

Cleary is scheduled to talk to the media at 8am tomorrow about dropping Walsh.

Walsh joined Penrith from Newcastle in 2009 and was a key part of the club’s march to the finals in 2010, but since then has struggled to stamp his authority on opposition sides and has worn plenty of criticism from fans.

He recently played his 100th first grade game, but now for the first since joining the Panthers four years ago, he finds himself playing park football in a desperate attempt to re-gain his spot in the team.

Cleary has also dumped Nathan Smith, who will line up in the second row for the Wolves this Saturday night. Tim Grant has been demoted back to the bench, where he also started against the Titans last Sunday.

The “tough love” approach is nothing new from Cleary. Last year he dumped wayward centre Michael Jennings to Windsor, but the move backfired when he was selected for the NSW Origin side just days later.

We’ll bring you details of tomorrow’s Ivan Cleary press conference as soon as we’ve got them. And we’ll be at Windsor on Saturday night for the Wolves v Cutters clash.

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