Talented Penrith back-rower Bryce Cartwright couldn't be more proud of the way his teammates stuck to their task in an agonising 20-16 loss to premiers South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Cartwright again starred for his side off the bench, with a try, two line breaks, two offloads and 135 metres as well as 30 tackles and six tackle breaks.
While the loss was hard to take, the resilience in the face of a massive injury toll with plenty of inexperienced youngsters on the field was something Cartwright was proud of.
"It was pretty tough to [finish] like that, but I thought we can hold our heads high and we didn't give up in the end. It was three tries apiece," Cartwright told NRL.com after the game.
"It's upsetting… I think we can hold our heads high but we're still upset not to come away with the win, it's tough.
"We're doing it hard but we'll get there and the positive thing is no-one gives up, [from players] one to 17 I can't be more proud to play in a team like this. No-one gives up, the coaching staff don't give up, it's a good team to be in."
Penrith had as many as 10 regular first graders unavailable and in key positions on Sunday, with both first and second-choice fullbacks Matt Moylan and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, and halfback and club captain Peter Wallace, as well as centres Dean Whare and Jamal Idris all on the injured list. Key forwards Brent Kite, Nigel Plum and Adam Docker are also out along with wingers David Simmons and George Jennings, while George's brother Robert suffered a hamstring tear in the first half ending his involvement and possibly putting him out for an extended period also.
It left the side with plenty of younger and less experienced players filling the gaps with Will Smith filling in at fullback, Isaac John in the halves, Waqa Blake and Isaah Yeo in the centres and even Robert Jennings at just 19 years of age on one wing, while bench prop Leilani Latu was impressive on debut.
"The younger boys that have come in this year have had to play more games than they probably should have in their first year in the NRL but they're doing themselves and the team proud," said Cartwright, himself a 20-year-old with just 25 NRL games.
"We make our mistakes, us young fellas, but the old fellas get behind us and same from us to them. Everyone's not giving up, we've still got a lot of faith and it's good to see the younger fellas coming through and to be playing with them as well."
Cartwright believes next weekend's road trip to Darwin to face Parramatta gives the team a chance to get back in the winner's circle, as well as a chance to make amends for a dire loss at home to the blue-and-golds in the last meeting between the two teams.
"Our last performance against Parra was pretty upsetting, it was probably one of our worst games of the year and it'll be a good trip up there," he said.
"We'll do some video tomorrow on us and on them on Tuesday, I think we head up there on Thursday. It's going to be a tough game but we're looking forward to it."
Of his own impressive form, Cartwright is benefiting from a coaching staff that gives him licence to play his natural game – an off-the-cuff style built largely around ball-playing and offloads honed from a junior career in the halves.
"I played in the halves when I was younger, I guess that's probably transitioned into the back row now," he said.
"I'm lucky Ivan [Cleary] and the coaching staff are happy for me to play off-the-cuff kind of stuff. We have that structure as well. I'm happy to fill in wherever I can and play some footy.
"I guess I'm still learning and getting used to the speed of the game but I'm getting more confident each week and the boys are trusting me to do what I can do. I'm just happy to be playing in the NRL."
And of an impressive shiner on his right cheek that led in-game callers to raise questions of a potential fractured cheekbone or concussion Cartwright laughed: "It's just a bump. I wanted to get some stitches and look tough, but it's just a scratch, nothing too serious!"
This article first appeared on NRL.com.