As Taylan May sits out the entire 2023 season with injury, Zero Tackle looks at four players who will be contending to take his jersey.

There's a stack of talent available in the squad, however with Stephen Crichton set to depart at the end of the season, there's little doubt Ivan Cleary has already assessed his backline options.

Whoever picks up the vacant spot will be right in line for a permanent spot in 2024, meaning the quartet will already be licking their lips as they fight it out for the year-long vacancy.

1. Sunia Turuva

The most obvious choice to receive May's jersey is Fijian flyer Sunia Turuva. After narrowly missing a spot to play in last year's Grand Final, Turuva was predicted to play the Charlie Staines bench role this season- making an impact off the bench in limited minutes.

Last season, Turuva made three appearances in the Panthers jersey, scoring one try. However, in the NSW Cup he made his mark and was one of the competitions best players. In 20 appearances he scored 13 tries. He also managed three try assists, 94 tackle breaks, 13 line breaks and an average of 169 running metres per game.

The utility back ended his breakout year with Fiji in the World Cup, leading the side to the knockout stages, and was eventually named in the Ruby League World Cup Team of the Tournament.

2. Jesse McLean

Upgraded to the Top 30 only two weeks ago, Jesse McLean had a great outing in the Panthers' first pre-season game against the Eels. He showed his exceptional talent which made him a 2022 Australian Schoolboy.

Against the Eels he topped the running metres for Penrith and scored a miraculous try in front of his friends and family. His performance illustrated why he should be considered to take Taylan May's jersey.

The 19-year-old claimed the Panthers SG Ball Emerging Talent award last season after a stellar campaign in the SG Ball. His great campaign included scoring a double and leading the Panthers to the premiership in the SG Ball Grand Final.

3. Thomas Jenkins

Unheard of until his NRL debut late last season, Jenkins is formidable in attack. With eyes on a starting spot in 2024 as Stephen Crichton leaves Penrith, his time in the first-grade team could appear earlier than expected.

The outside back was dominant in the NSW Cup last season and was named in the Team of the Year. In 22 games he scored 20 tries, nearly at a try per game. He managed six try assists, 73 tackle breaks and 16 line breaks in attack.

Whilst he is most useful in attack, he is not to be reckoned with in defence. A tackle efficiency rate of 88.2% and only 30 missed tackles last season portrays how good his defence is.

4. Jack Cole

If the Penrith Panthers are to select Jack Cole, they will have to push-out Stephen Crichton to the wing. Just like McLean, Cole was awarded a spot in the Top 30 two weeks ago, although he has already made his first-grade debut.

The playmaker can suit up anywhere in the spine, but has also showed brilliance in the centres. If he does take May's spot in the team, it will be interesting to see what role he plays alongside Luai and Cleary. Could he provide the Panthers with an extra playmaker, the same way Matt Burton did in 2021?

Not shy of the big stage, Cole had a breakout season in 2022. Here he represented the NSW Blues in the U19 State of Origin, received game time in the NSW Cup and NRL and was awarded the prestigious title of NSWRL Jersey Flegg Player of the Year after winning the Grand Final.