Nathan Cleary is the sole survivor of the Panthers’ spine shuffle. Can he align their attack?

If overhauling the worst 20-metre zone attack in the NRL is not hard enough, the Panthers will now have to do so with a brand-new spine.

Penrith revealed yesterday that fast-improving fullback Dylan Edwards is facing two months on the sideline after sustaining an ankle injury.

LIVE stream Indigenous All-Stars v Maori Kiwis in the 2020 Harvey Norman NRL All Stars match on KAYO. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

Round 1
Son of a gun finds the line

Son of a gun finds the line

0:36

James Maloney and Wayde Egan both departed the foot of the mountains last year while starting rake Mitch Kenny remains at the club and was a reliable tackling machine in the middle.

But the Panthers identified new recruit Apisai Koroisau as key to unlocking their attack and early signs are good after an impressive outing at the NRL nines.

The nifty hooker scored three tries while setting up Josh Mansour for another off a deceptive inside pass.

Apisai Koroisau of the Panthers scores a try during the Quarter Finals of the NRL Nines.

Apisai Koroisau of the Panthers scores a try during the Quarter Finals of the NRL Nines.Source: AAP

Maloney’s absence means that the pressure is squarely on Nathan Cleary to step up and the lead the team alongside the still developing Jarome Luai.

However, with Edwards’ most recent injury, Cleary could be set for yet another year playing in a disrupted spine.

MORE NRL NEWS

NRL TRIAL WRAP: Rabbitohs’ rising stars shine as Broncos unearth next Fijian flyer

CAPTAIN’S CHALLENGE: How it works and how Thompson will use it in radical trial

IT’S NOT JUST BENNETT: Richo to also leave Bunnies after 2021 season

THIS GUY IS QUICK! Have the Broncos found the NRL’s next Fijian star?

In his first three full seasons in the NRL, the 22-year old was a mainstay in the halfback position for Penrith.

But he was given little chance to build strong combinations, with the NSW Origin halfback playing alongside 18 different spine players.

“There are opportunities for other people now and we have to make those combinations gel quickly,” Cleary told the Sydney Morning Herald.

LISTEN! Mick Ennis & Braith Anasta cover all the season 2020 talking points

ON YOUR PHONE? CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

“‘Dyl’ is one of my best mates, and to see him put in such a big pre-season and go down like that is disappointing.

Caleb Aekins is the frontrunner to fill the void in the number one jersey, having made history when he ran 303 metres in his first game – the most by any player on debut in NRL history.

Caleb Aekins ran for 303 metres in his debut against Cronulla. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Caleb Aekins ran for 303 metres in his debut against Cronulla. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)Source: AAP

Aekins, like Edwards, is a strong ball runner and will also be working on developing his ball-playing skills to take pressure off Cleary.

Fortunately for the Panthers, the acquisition of Koroisau is a genius move as he offers variation in attack coming out of dummy-half.

The Fijian international possesses a dangerous running game, kicking option and varied passing arsenal.

“He’s won a comp, he’s been in really good sides so he knows a lot about the game and he’s a really crafty hooker,” Cleary told foxsports.com.au.

“I think it will open up a lot of space for the people around him and it’s been really good to have him around.”

Penrith's Dylan Edwards will miss two months with injury.

Penrith’s Dylan Edwards will miss two months with injury.Source: News Corp Australia

Luai leads the way for the number six jersey with young gun Matt Burton waiting in the wings.

Cleary and Luai played junior football together, guiding the Panthers to premiership glory in 2015, so the pair should at least know each other’s games quite well.

The pressure is on Nathan Cleary to perform without James Maloney. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

The pressure is on Nathan Cleary to perform without James Maloney. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)Source: AAP

It is no secret that the Panthers struggled in attack when they reached the opposition’s 20-metre zone.

Numbers from the Fox Sports Lab show they had more tackles in their opponent’s 20-metre zone than any other team but still had the fourth worst attack and worst completion rate of any side (73.3 per cent).

On average, Penrith required almost 17 tackles inside the 20 per try scored in the zone, the worst of any team.

While Korosiau and Luai provide plenty of strike power in attack, the challenge for the Panthers will be gelling in attack quickly.

Otherwise, they could again find themselves on the backfoot with their opening five rounds featuring games against the Roosters, Dragons, Storm, Broncos and Raiders.

Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *