I believe the Panthers have the depth in 2021 to cover a variety of key positions despite worries during the pre-season that they may struggle if injuries struck.
A lot was made of their relative free run of major injuries last season but it’s only round three and already Api Koroisau will be missing for at least another five weeks.
However coach Ivan Cleary has assembled a strong group of players, who each know the Panthers system and are capable of covering a variety of positions without missing a beat.
Their ‘next man-up’ philosophy is seamless.
Koroisau’s injury paved the way for Mitch Kenny to come in and he won’t let anyone down during his stint at hooker, while the much-discussed Matt Burton is there as cover for both Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
As for the rest of the team, if needed, there is experienced cover in all key positions. In the backs, Brent Naden and Robert Jennings are waiting for their opportunity. In the forwards, you have Scott Sorensen and Billy Burns and if you need a ‘Mr Fix-It’ then look no further than Tyrone May, who is currently in the 17-man line-up each week. May can more than capably cover a variety of positions from hooker to lock to half and even centre.
This isn’t even taking into account that there are several youngsters like Izack Tago, Sunia Turuva and J’Maine Hopgood all waiting to make their first grade debuts sometime in 2021.
It’s about as good as it gets, you can’t stockpile players of the calibre of your starting 17 anymore. The salary cap put a stop to that, but you can have some pretty good back-up.
Just like the Panthers do.
What caught my eye last week…
I was impressed with the form of the Eels last week to defeat the Storm at Bankwest Stadium. It’s no mean feat to beat the Premiers and Parramatta really flexed their muscles in doing so. The big question is, can it last?
What game I’m looking forward to…
I love watching the South Sydney Rabbitohs take on their mortal enemies, the Sydney Roosters, no matter where each team is positioned on the ladder. The fact that both sides are equally strong this season, makes this encounter even more mouth-watering.
My tips for the week…
Panthers, Dragons, Roosters, Raiders, Broncos, Eels, Tigers, Cowboys.
The final word…
Even after two rounds, the competition looks like it’s being split into the ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ although there is still time for the teams near the bottom to turn things around. However I can’t see Manly or Brisbane performing any major miracles and qualifying for the top eight. The Sea Eagles are running out of troops and five-eighth Kieran Foran looks like a shadow of his former self. Meanwhile, the Broncos may have some top talent in their team but still look mentally scarred from their disastrous 2020 campaign.
Peter Lang is an experienced writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.