After Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart made some bizarre and unsavoury comments about him during a post-match press conference last winter, Panthers utility Jaeman Salmon became a household name for all the wrong reasons.
While the incident took a toll on him and his loving family, the 24-year-old says he’s finally moved on from the dramas of last year thanks to the support of the Panthers club, community and his teammates.
Speaking with the Weekender on the eve of the 2023 season, Salmon said he and his family are now doing “okay” after Stuart referred to him as a “weak-gutted dog” following a spicy Raiders-Panthers match last August.
“The club always had my back, so I knew there was no issue there. It probably affected my family more than anything,” Salmon revealed.
“I didn’t think about it too much, I just moved on with it and I put it aside.
“But to see how it affected my family was a bit upsetting but the club rallied around me, the boys rallied around me, and I just got on with the job of playing footy.”
Stuart’s petty insult couldn’t have come at a worse time for Salmon, who had been enjoying his best, most consistent season in the NRL to date.
Not only did the former Parramatta Eel string together a whopping 25 games in season 2022, but he capped it off with a NRL Premiership ring.
“I’ve been in and out of the NRL for a few years, but I felt that last season was probably the start of my NRL career,” Salmon admitted.
“I finally strung together a full season and I felt I found my straps a bit.
“All credit to the coaching staff at the time and the boys who had the faith in me, and the coaches who had the trust in me to do the job. I guess you could say it was the best year of my career. To top it off with a Grand Final was amazing.”
Following Penrith’s incredible Premiership win over Salmon’s former club in October, the De La Salle Caringbah junior went on a well earned seven-week adventure through Central, South and North America, to let his hair down and recharge the batteries.
Upon his return to Penrith Salmon re-signed with the Panthers for another season – shrugging off interest from elsewhere to remain with the back-to-back Premiers.
“I love this club. It’s a successful club and I love being a part of it,” Salmon said.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time at Penrith. I have some great mates here, I love all the coaching staff and all the boys, so it was an easy decision to stay.
“There was some interest from elsewhere, but I was pretty set on staying at Penrith, especially after the last two years with two Grand Final wins. I made up my mind pretty early.”
Salmon will look to continue his good run of form when Penrith kick-off their 2023 campaign on Friday against the Brisbane Broncos at BlueBet Stadium.
Salmon has once again been named on the bench in Ivan Cleary’s opening round side, proving his worth as a handy utility to the back-to-back Premiers.
“I’ll have a pretty similar role this season, well at least for Round 1,” Salmon said.
“I can play back-up second-row, centre, half – it just depends how the game is going.
“Obviously I want to play more minutes but whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll do.
“If someone goes down, I’ll go in. I’m willing to do whatever for the team.”
While Salmon had the utility spot all to himself last season, he does have a few new recruits chasing his tail this year.
With Tyrone Peachey back at the club and Jack Cogger capable of filling in multiple positions also, Salmon knows he’s going to have to perform in the limited minutes he has in order to keep his spot in first grade.
“There’s been some healthy competition this year and it’s been good. All the boys are training well, they’re good players,” he said.
“Peach is a very experience player and Coggsy’s been to a couple of NRL clubs now and he knows what he’s doing.
“It’s good, healthy competition and it still is. They’re also great fellas as well, so it’s good to have them at the club.”
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.