Penrith Panthers 2013 NYC premiership team making their mark on the NRL

Glory: The Penrith Panthers under-20s celebrate their win over the New Zealand Warriors in the 2013 grand final.
Glory: The Penrith Panthers under-20s celebrate their win over the New Zealand Warriors in the 2013 grand final.

Penrith Panthers coach Ivan Cleary says his side is starting to look like a football team again after their win over defending premiers South Sydney.

The Panthers beat the Rabbitohs 20-6 at Pepper Stadium on Friday night, recording consecutive wins for the first time since round two.

Both Cleary and Panthers captain Peter Wallace were highly complimentary about a number of their young stars, including Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Bryce Cartwright.

"We've debuted a lot of guys in the last 18 months and not just guys who are making their debut and play in a handful of games," Cleary said.

"They're going to be keeping us around here for a long time.

"I think they've been pretty consistent, our young guys this year.

"They've probably had to shoulder a bit more of the burden than we'd initially hoped, but they're learning on the run and they're good players."

The Panthers team against the Rabbitohs included five players from their National Youth Competition premiership winning team in 2013, but throughout the course of the season, six members of that side have had a taste of the NRL.

Though a question mark may loom over the future of the under-20s competition, the Panthers Class of 2013 are certainly one of the success stories.

The Panthers face another tough challenge against the Roosters at Pepper Stadium on Saturday night and they will need their youngsters to fire as they look to secure a place in the top eight.

Let's have a look at how he 2013 Holden Cup team graduates have fared in the NRL so far.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

Age: 19

Junior club: St Clair Comets

NRL debut: Round 5, 2014

NRL games: 25

The youngest member of the group also has the most NRL games to his name. Burst onto the scene last year where he shared the Panthers rookie of the year award with Bryce Cartwright. Still young enough to be playing under 20s, but has already been selected for New Zealand twice. A run of bad luck with injury and suspension has delayed his test debut, and will be praying he gets third time lucky. Made his name on the wing, but has looked right at home deputising for Matt Moylan at fullback. Has arguably played his best football this season in the number one jersey, either way he has cemented a spot in the Panthers backline.

Isaah Yeo

Isaah Yeo

Isaah Yeo

Age: 20

Junior club: St Johns Dubbo 

NRL debut: Round one, 2014 

NRL games: 22

The big unit from Dubbo has backed up after a strong start to his career in 2014. Missed the first few games of the year, but has cemented his spot since returning to the top grade. Has been moved between the centres and the back row, but has proved reliable wherever he plays and has been a regular in the starting 13. 

Bryce Cartwright

Bryce Cartwright

Bryce Cartwright

Age: 20

Junior club: St Marys

NRL debut: Round 12, 2014

NRL games: 21

The Cartwright name is already well known at the Panthers, but the back-rower has established himself in his own right. Cartwright has been the talk of the town at the foot of the mountain in recent weeks and with good reason. Has fought his way back from a season-ending ankle injury in 2014 and a brief stint in NSW Cup earlier this year to make a starting jersey his own. Makes big metres, plenty of tackles and has an offload to die for. Played 80 minutes against the Rabbitohs. He was 18th man for City this year and is now being talked up a future Origin star. 

Reagan Campbell-Gillard

Reagan Campbell-Gillard

Reagan Campbell-Gillard

Age: 21

Junior club: Windsor Wolves

NRL debut: Round one, 2015

NRL games: 15

Has a stranger back story than most NRL players. Gave up rugby league for five years in his teens, only returning as a 16 year old. Quickly stepped up to the Panthers juniors. Had already played a Test for Fiji before making his debut, but it didn’t take long to earn another rep jersey. Played for City earlier this year and hasn’t missed a game for the Panthers. Started his career off the interchange bench, but has proven a reliable starter in the front row in recent weeks. 

Waqa Blake

Waqa Blake

Waqa Blake

Age: 21

Junior club: WA Reds

NRL debut: Round five, 2015

NRL games: 11

In a one-man club of Fijian-born, Perth juniors to play in the NRL. Dubbed ’the next Greg Inglis’ before he had even played NRL, Blake has had a lot to live up to since making his debut. Yet to prove he can be as good as Inglis, but has held a regular spot in the absence of Jamal Idris. Brad Fittler had enough belief to give him a City Origin jersey and Ivan Cleary has shown his faith by keeping him in first grade.

George Jennings

George Jennings

George Jennings

Age: 22

Junior club: Western City Tigers

NRL debut: Round one, 2015

NRL games: 5

Jennings has been the unluckiest member of the group. He is a spitting image of his older brother Michael and has constantly had to deal with being compared to his sibling. Looked set to make his debut in 2014, but instead spent the entire season on the sidelines after suffering a freak elbow injury in the Auckland Nines. He got his chance in round one this year and was a good cover for the injured Josh Mansour, scoring two tries in the first two games, both of which the Panthers won. The Panthers have won four out of five with Jennings in the team, but  he could struggle to play first grade again this year after suffering a suspected broken leg. 

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