With the recent wrist injury to regular hooker Api Koroisau, Panthers fans will be seeing a lot more of fill-in dummy half Mitch Kenny in the coming weeks.
While even he admits he’s not quite at the level of his injured mentor, the 23-year-old says he has come a long way since running around like a “headless chook” less than two years ago.
Speaking candidly for the first time, Kenny said he was very inexperienced at the dummy half role when he made his NRL debut with the Panthers back in 2019.
“I was a lock that just never got bigger, so when my U20s football finished, the club kept me on but said I’d have to play hooker,” he recalled.
“So that year, when I was playing first grade and I was our number 9, I was like a ‘headless chook’. I was doing my best, but I didn’t know the position too well – I had only been playing it for six months.”
With Panthers coach Ivan Cleary aware that Kenny was fairly ‘green’ at the hugely important dummy half role, he made the decision to poach the experienced and highly talented Koroisau from Manly in August of 2019.
Kenny said that while he still desires to be a regular first grade hooker in the future, he is relishing every moment that he gets to learn off one of the best dummy halves in the game today.
“Despite me stringing a few games together during my rookie season, the club – and even myself – desperately needed a hooker. I needed someone to learn off and we needed an experienced number 9 here,” the Windsor Wolves junior said from the comfort of the club’s board room this week, escaping the wild rain outside.
“Api’s changed the way I’ve approached the position, the game, and he’s been really good as a mentor. He’s been massive and always been happy to help, which goes to show the type of bloke he is.”
With Koroisau sidelined for up to six weeks following surgery on his injured wrist, Kenny now gets the opportunity to show the Panthers faithful everything he’s learned over the past 18 months.
Last weekend, during his comeback game against the Bulldogs, Kenny showed glimpses of his predecessor when he put Viliame Kikau over for a close range try.
“I didn’t think I’d get the call up this early… it’s always what you’re hoping for, the goal is to play NRL and while I’m sad for Api – because I never want it to be to the detriment of one my teammates – it is exciting for myself,” Kenny admitted.
“Now I need to go out there and keep developing as a footballer and put my best foot forward to show that I’m up to playing first grade week in, week out.”
Off-contract at season’s end, Kenny also revealed conversations have begun with the club on a possible extension.
“I’d love to be a Panther, this is the best place for my development,” he said.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.