NRL Rd 5 - Eels v Panthers
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Matt Burton of the Panthers looks dejected after an Eels try during the round five NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Penrith Panthers at Bankwest Stadium on June 12, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Following the departure of several marquee players in 2021, namely Dally M centre of the year Matt Burton, the Panthers will be looking to strike gold in some of their young and developing talent. And, it seems like they might have in rookie centre Izack Tago.

Burton was devastating on the left edge for the Panthers in 2021, scoring 17 tries in 26 appearances. His ability to find holes in a defence, being a trained five-eighth, also made him a deadly combination with New South Wales State of Origin five-eighth Jarome Luai.

This production will surely be missed, however, if all the chatter surrounding rookie centre Tago is validated then the Panthers left edge may not miss a beat.

Luai spoke briefly on Tago's improvement last year, where he made his NRL debut and appeared in six total games throughout the season, and during the pre-season.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 06: Jarome Luai of the Panthers celebrates victory during the round 17 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the New Zealand Warriors at Panthers Stadium on July 6, 2018 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

"He’s had a really good pre-season, he had a couple of games last year. He is young and a really strong body as well," Luai said.

"I’m happy to have him outside of me and keep building on our combination this year."

Appearing in both trial matches for the Panthers during the pre-season Tago was all over the park, with the 19-year-old second in the team in total runs.

Speaking with NRL.com though, Tago wasn't going to let his recent selection at the centre position get him carried away.

“It’s nice I guess to be talked about but I’m only just starting out in the NRL and have a lot to learn,” Tago told NRL.com.

“I’ve tried not to think about the opportunities but more so looking ahead to the year as a whole.

“I’ve had a good pre-season, it was short and sharp but I’ve learned a lot from it. I thought it was really cool to be around the boys in Queensland last year and see how they prepare daily.

“You probably wouldn’t be able to do that usually if you weren’t away with them for as long as we were.

“Their level of professionalism and diligence, I definitely noticed it. They did everything right and didn’t cut corners on anything, that goes for the coaching staff as well.”

Signed at least until the end of the 2023 season, Tago is yet another product of the Panthers junior system having played both Harold Matthews and SG Ball for the club.

Tago was also a key player in a dominant Panthers outfit in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup – finishing 2021 as outright leaders with a 12-1 record when the competition was cancelled after 15 rounds.

Luai will get plenty of opportunities on Thursday night against the Sea-Eagles to highlight his talents, featuring on the left edge with Luia, Viliame Kikau and Brian To’o.