Winning run familiar ground for Panthers pups

Winning run familiar ground for Panthers pups

Penrith will go after a record-extending 13th NRL win in a row when they face Parramatta but for a third of their squad such a winning streak is nothing new.

Nathan Cleary has been part of a 13-match winning streak at Penrith before.

So too has almost a third of the Panthers’ NRL squad, including Cleary’s halves partner Jarome Luai, fullback Dylan Edwards, second-rower Liam Martin and utility Tyrone May.

It was 2016, and Penrith’s stars of today won a then record-equalling 13 in a row in the under-20s Holden Cup – a feat this year’s NRL leader can match with a victory over arch-rivals Parramatta on Friday night.

“We played a lot of footy together growing up, we won plenty of games in lower grades,” Luai told AAP.

“It sort of feels like that now. Just because we have that same group there and we have been having a lot of success.”

After winning the Holden Cup title the year before, there are striking similarities between the young Panthers of 2016 and today’s team.

Cleary played the first 10 games before being elevated to the NRL and others went to the NSW Cup.

With current NRL assistant Cameron Ciraldo as their coach, Caleb Aekins, Billy Burns and Mitch Kenny all played their parts coming in and out of the side.

“It’s similar in a lot of the younger guys came in and did the job,” Ciraldo said.

The 2016 run came as part of Penrith’s emphasis on juniors under Phil Gould, Ivan Cleary, recruitment boss Jim Jones and current head of football Matt Cameron.

Several of today’s players formed close bonds in under-16s and under-18s before they even reached Holden Cup.

“I think it’s really important for our success now that they are good mates firstly… We have seen that at times this year with a lot of resilience.” Ciraldo said.

“They can all have pretty honest conversations with each other and no one gets offended.

“They know it’s nothing personal.”

After their Holden Cup winning run was ended with a draw, Penrith won two more after that for a record 16 games undefeated and finished minor premiers.

But there’s still a cruel lesson to heed: It can all mean little come October.

A 28-6 grand final lead ended in a 30-28 loss to the Sydney Roosters, with Luai and Jack Hetherington sidelined as part of six-game bans for a lifting tackle.

“It shows at the end of the day whatever team rocks up ready to play hard (wins it),” Luai said.

Ciraldo added: “It’s one thing to be consistent through the year but then a new competition starts.

“I think everyone all through the junior grades had different experiences of winning and losing grand finals so that can only help them.

“Hopefully leading into this year it helps.”