When fans discuss the strongest of the Penrith Panthers muscle men, Andy Saunders likely wouldn’t be the first name to pass their lips.
However the 20-year-old prop, currently plying his trade in the NSW Cup competition, proudly holds the Panthers’ bench press record this season.
It is one of many impressive accolades Saunders has already achieved in his short career - all of which he attributes to plain and simple hard work.
Born in the small NSW town of Quirindi, Saunders was first spotted by Penrith’s recruitment guru Jim Jones while playing for NSWCHS in the 2011 Australian Schoolboys Championship.
His first experience in Penrith colours was during the 2012 SG Ball season. Still finishing high school at the time, Andy would fly to Sydney on Thursday, play on Saturday, and then return home on Sunday.
Saunders’ progression through the Panthers development system continued and he forced his way into the 2013 NYC squad which went on to win the premiership.
“Our NYC squad was incredible. With the likes of Bryce Cartwright, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Dallin Watene-Zeleniak and George Jennings in the team; it was just awesome to be a part of it,” Saunders said.
In 2014 Saunders’ leadership qualities were rewarded with captaincy of the NYC team.
Although the team missed out on playing finals footy, Saunders stepped up to NSW Cup and was a member of the side which won the title.
On the back of his outstanding year he was then named in the prestigious NYC Team of the Year and earned selection in the Junior Kangaroos squad.
"2014 was one of those great years. However while it is good to look back on the achievements, I still have a big job ahead of me to reach my goals," he said.
Saunders is currently playing in Garth Brennan’s top-of-the table NSW Cup squad. He believes the Panthers’ strong team culture has been reflected in their superb season so far.
"Brennan’s coaching mantra focuses on performance rather than the result," Saunders said.
"This belief means the team refuses to settle for average performances, which makes everyone work harder for each other."
Signed on at the Panthers until the end of 2016, Saunders is focused on helping the NSW Cup side defend their title, with dreams of forcing his way into first grade in the near future.
But it's not all about on-field results for the next generation of Panthers. Away from the field, Saunders is completing his Certificate III and IV in Fitness, which will allow him to work as a personal trainer.
"Panthers have been great in finding me a course to pursue my studies and open up career options off the field," he said.
"I am very grateful to the Education and Welfare team at the club."