Cole’s season-long audition for vacant five-eighth jumper

Panthers youngster Jack Cole. Photo: NRL Photos.
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Who will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves next year?

It’s the question Penrith fans have been asking themselves all season long as the battle for Jarome Luai’s soon-to-be vacant number six jersey rolls on.

One man hoping to score the coveted position is 20-year-old Jack Cole.
The Orange CYMS junior is the current favourite to play alongside the two-time Clive Churchill Medallist in Cleary next year after some strong performances in first grade already this season.

Speaking with the Weekender on Tuesday, Cole said he’s relishing his year-long audition for Luai’s jumper.

“I’ve been pretty stoked to get the opportunities that I’ve been given,” he said.

“It’s obviously unfortunate Nath being injured, he’s the centrepiece of the team. But I’m really enjoying getting the exposure to the first grade team and try and earn a spot for next year.”

Cole said he’s learning as much as he can off Penrith’s three-time premiership-winning halves pairing as he competes for the much-desired role.

“I’m still learning off Nath and Romey at the moment – trying to build my game but getting some game time and experience,” he said.

“This has been a great opportunity for me to get my foot in the door but there’s a few of us that can play that position next year and we’re all competing against each other.”

One of those players also vying to play alongside Cleary next season is young gun Trent Toelau, who made his NRL debut last weekend against the Dragons at BlueBet Stadium.

“I’m really good friends with Trent, so it was good to see him get his debut,” Cole said.

“He’s a bit older than me, he has a young family but shows up every day with a good attitude and it’s good to see him get rewarded.”

Including February’s World Club Challenge in England – which was Cole’s only game alongside Cleary this season – the young playmaker has played in half a dozen games in 2024.

His best game to date was against the Cronulla Sharks a fortnight ago, where he managed to score his first NRL try in Penrith’s 42-0 win.

“That was my second full game of first grade,” Cole said.

“I got a lot of confidence from the Warriors game the week before; I got a bit more involved and felt a bit more in the game.

“But the Sharks game, I felt that was one of my better performances.”
That Warriors game up in Brisbane during Magic Round will also be remembered for another moment when it comes to Cole.

With the clock winding down and the Panthers on the brink of defeat, Cole was shown live on Fox League vomiting on the pitch after being hit in the stomach during a tackle. The two-second footage went viral, and is still doing the rounds three weeks later.

“I’ve been seeing that clip everywhere – a few of my mates have it as their profile picture,” Cole laughed.

“When I went to catch the ball, I got hit in the gut and it upset it. I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t.

“Everyone got some good laughs from it. Someone’s got to be on the receiving end.”

Nathan Taylor

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.

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