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Crichton says Panthers young guns ‘ready’ for NRL challenge

Panthers star Stephen Crichton
Stephen Crichton celebrates scoring a try during Penrith’s win over South Sydney in the 2021 NRL Grand Final. (NRL Photos)

They lost a stack of experience in the outside backs for this season and have had a few key premiership players out injured, but that hasn’t stopped the defending-champion Penrith Panthers starting their 2022 NRL campaign with a perfect 3-0 record.

Penrith’s latest scalp was a reinvigorated Newcastle at Bathurst’s Carrington Park on Saturday, triumphing 38-20 over a team that comfortably disposed of the Roosters and Tigers over the first two rounds.

The Panthers have lost an extensive amount of firepower to other clubs this year, while several stars are still on the sidelines.

The men from the foot of the mountains no longer have Matt Burton, Brent Naden (both now at the Bulldogs) or Paul Momirovski (Roosters), who were all potent centres for Ivan Cleary’s outfit.

Queensland representative backrower Kurt Capewell, now at the Broncos, is also very capable in that position.

On top of that, halfback and captain Nathan Cleary (shoulder surgery) has missed the first three weeks of this season, although he is set to return in Round 4 to face the Roosters.

Winger Brian To’o suffered a high-grade MCL injury in Penrith’s 20-16 win over the Dragons in Round 2, requiring a 6-8 week recovery period.

Damaging New Zealand representative frontrower James Fisher-Harris also sustained muscular damage to his left shoulder and missed his team’s win over Newcastle.

But this has not been a worry for a Panthers squad brimming with depth in a junior nursery envied across the rugby league world, according to Blues representative Stephen Crichton.

Halfback Sean O’Sullivan and flyers Izack Tago (two tries) and Taylan May (hat-trick) all impressed against the Knights.
They have proven themselves as first-graders in the absence of Penrith’s injured stars.

“We’ve got a lot of young juniors coming through who are really good, like Tago and Taylan,” Crichton, who scored a try and kicked 4/7 against the Knights, told

“The coach has expectations on those boys coming up. He picks them because they’re ready.

“He (O’Sullivan) has stepped up and taken on Nathan’s role really well, and is leading the team around well.”

Crichton – a 2021 NRL Grand Final hero with a clutch intercept try – said everyone in Penrith’s 30-man squad remained motivated for success during a testing pre-season.

“It was motivation to keep going and get off to a good start this year. Put our best foot forward through some adversity,” he said.

“The boys have started the season well. I feel good. The boys are getting more connected every time we play. We’re building confidence among each other.”

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