The Penrith Panthers have confirmed what’s been suspected for days, with their Round 25 team list missing 13 of the squad’s starting 17 players.
The defending premiers confirmed that Dylan Edwards, Isaah Yeo, Viliame Kikau, Taylan May, Izack Tago, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Moses Leota, Apisai Koroisau, James Fisher-Harris, Liam Martin and Spencer Leniu would all be missing for the trip to Townsville.
As a result of the mass omissions, local junior and talented hooker Mitch Kenny will be handed the captaincy, 56 games into his NRL career.
He’ll likely be joined by Chris and Lindsay Smith, Soni Luke, Kurt Falls, Charlie Staines, Robert Jennings and more as the Panthers put their depth on show.
The decision could ultimately hurt the Panthers’ hopes of success in the NSW Cup lower-grade competition. The Panthers face a qualifying final test against the North Sydney Bears at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday, no doubt impacted by the number of players rested at NRL level.
The Panthers have already confirmed that the players will be flying home on a private jet immediately after the game as they prepare to kick-off the finals series next Friday.
The matter of team’s resting large contingents was discussed by Graham Annesley in his weekly press conference, where he claimed clubs had a ‘responsibility’ to field their best players – but that Ivan Cleary was within his rights to select from the entirety of the team’s 30-man NRL squad.
“They do have a responsibility to field their best players as much as possible,” Annesley said.
“But if they’ve come from their squad they are entitled to pick whoever they want. We don’t get involved in that.
“These are club decisions but they have to think about the fans as well, and they have to think about what cohesion and momentum they want going into the finals.”
While the Panthers are confirmed minor premiers, the Cowboys have a fight on their hands in the race for finals football.
While a Sharks win this weekend will mean the Cowboys can no longer finish second, a win over the Panthers would guarantee them a third-place finish, while a loss could see them finish fourth and face a return trip to Penrith in the first week of the finals.
The game kicks off from Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Saturday at 7.35pm.