Masked Panther: Panthers look slick in Blues camp

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Panthers lap up Origin attention

The Panthers have brought their cheeky attitudes from Penrith into the Blues camp, by all reports helping to provide a relaxed atmosphere ahead of next week’s series opener.

And the boys are lapping up the formalities too.

Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o and Jarome Luai were looking pretty slick at the True Blues Dinner, held in Sydney on Tuesday night.

Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai at the True Blues Dinner. Photo: NRL Images.

Royce returns

Panthers legend Royce Simmons received a hero’s welcome upon returning to Penrith from his ‘Big Walk’ fundraiser last Friday. Simmons was greeted by fellow residents of The Royce along with family and friends, before heading over to Panthers Stadium where thousands of fans had turned up early to congratulate the Premiership-winning hooker.

Panthers Chairman Peter Graham was on hand to announce a further $100,000 donation to the cause, meaning ‘Royce’s Big Walk’ raised more than $600,000 for Dementia Australia.

Royce Simmons lapping up the media attention last Friday. Photo: Megan Dunn.

NRLW expansion

The Panthers have formally applied for entry into the NRLW competition, but my understanding is the club wishes to be part of the 2024 expansion to 10 teams, not the 2023 move to eight teams.

The NRL is very keen for Penrith to be represented in the women’s competition, so you can rest assured entry into the league is a formality.

Donation to help past players

Panthers officials handed over a whopping $20,000 cheque to the Men of League Foundation last week. Following Penrith’s Round 7 victory over the Raiders in ANZAC Round, the club auctioned off 18 individual playing jerseys, as well as a team signed and framed jersey.

The proceeds go towards helping former rugby league players who have fallen on hard times.

Men of League’s Samantha Gordon said: “We’re very impressed with the donation and it will go towards a lot of families and communities that we support. For everyone in the local grassroots community, this will make a massive difference.”

Nathan Cleary, Samantha Gordon and Peter Graham.

Rivals unite

They may be arch enemies on the field but I’m told Penrith and Parramatta are working together on education programs involving schools in western Sydney.

Kikau still Bulldogs-bound

It’s no surprise that rumours are doing the rounds about Viliame Kikau’s future, as the big forward prepares to join Canterbury next season.

Despite all the dramas at the Dogs, I’m told Kikau is 100 per cent still headed to Belmore next season and there’s been no talk about him trying to get out of the deal.

The Panthers are certainly getting their money’s worth out of Kikau this year, turning him into an 80 minute player as he chases back-to-back titles.

Viliame Kikau. Photo: NRL Photos.

In the dog house

Talking of the Bulldogs, one does ponder if there’s any regret from former Panthers centre Matt Burton about his switch to Canterbury. You’d have to think Burton would have been a lock for at least a bench position for New South Wales this year if he was still at Penrith.

Josh Addo-Carr must be pondering similar thoughts given he’s lost his NSW wing jumper.

The Panthers likely would have kept Burton for this season had his management been patient, but they jumped too quickly; convinced he was a half and that his only long-term opportunity was outside of Penrith.

Rest up

You can almost guarantee Ivan Cleary will rest a couple of Origin players from Penrith’s game against Newcastle next weekend.

He’ll see how the likes of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo come out of the first game before deciding if they line up against the Knights on the Sunday.

The Panthers have to travel to Queensland the following Saturday to play the Warriors, so this period will be managed carefully and patiently.

Cleary on crutches

Penrith may be without a host of players this weekend but Origin is the only drain on the club at present, with no serious injuries to report.

In fact, the only Panther with a problem at present remains coach Ivan Cleary – who had to make his way to the coach’s box last Friday night on crutches due to his troublesome knee.

Ivan Cleary arriving at BlueBet Stadium last week. Photo: NRL Images.

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