Masked Panther: Relaxed vibe continues

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This photograph from Panthers training on Monday shows you just how relaxed the squad is heading into Saturday night’s Preliminary Final against Souths. It’s not complacency and it’s certainly not the players being over-confident, it’s just the way this squad has been all year – a tight unit that chooses to avoid the stresses and complexities that can often come with top level sport. You’d be concerned if the side looked any different this week given this has been their attitude all season.

Josh Mansour, Brian To’o and Nathan
Cleary relax at training on Monday.
Photo: Megan Dunn.

Panthers back-up fullback Caleb Aekins is close to finalising a deal that will see him move to the nation’s capital next season. The 22-year-old made his debut for the Panthers in 2018 and while he’s been given a few opportunities in the top grade, including a handful of games this year, he’s stuck behind first choice fullback Dylan Edwards. While Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has the fullback position sewn up in Canberra, Aekins is hoping to develop his game under coach Ricky Stuart.

Caleb Aekins in action for Penrith last season. Photo: Megan Dunn.

The rugby league media has had Jack Hetherington heading to almost every NRL club at some point this year. In the end, he’s landed at Canterbury with the deal officially done on Wednesday.

Spotted: Leading Panthers fashion icon James Fisher-Harris wearing socks with thongs at training this week.

There’s plenty of talk that this Saturday night’s Preliminary Final will be an Origin audition for Stephen Crichton. There’s word around the traps that Blues coach Brad Fittler is keen to see how Crichton goes against Souths counterpart Campbell Graham. Neither would let New South Wales down in November.

Stephen Crichton. Photo: NRL Images.

The Panthers have been soaking up the attention that comes with being on top of the table. It would be easy for the club to carefully manage media appearances or demand interviews take place over Zoom, but instead, the entire squad was made available to journalists in person on Monday. Nathan Cleary, Ivan Cleary and Jarome Luai also made themselves available for TV interviews last weekend. Kurt Capewell also fronted up for an interview on 2GB on Monday night.

All the talk might be about Souths this week but the bookies still have Penrith as stand-alone premiership favourites. Sportsbet has Ivan Cleary’s side at $2.70 to win the competition, slightly ahead of Melbourne at $2.80. Canberra and Souths are both at $7.00.

The Panthers have made some slight changes to their bubble arrangements, with talented club photographer Jeff Lambert now in the tight-knit group.

The Panthers are holding a Grand Final Luncheon at the club on Friday, October 23. ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys will be the guest of honour while former premiership winners Craig Gower and Royce Simmons will also be in attendance. The luncheon will be going ahead even if the Panthers don’t make the big one. If they do, it’ll be an incredible lead-in to the big day. Corporate partners have been sent details regarding ticketing for the lunch.

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys. Photo: NRL Images.

I’m hearing plenty of fans had trouble getting tickets to this weekend’s Preliminary Final. It was a mixture of people not reading instructions correctly and Ticketek’s general incompetence, which we’ve all talked about for years. I actually had to ring Ticketek the other day to make an enquiry about a ticket and they won’t even take your call these days. They suggest you should reconsider your need to call, then hang up on you. What a way to treat your customers.

Heard a whisper about the Panthers? I’m not good at keeping secrets but I do protect my sources. Email [email protected].

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