After six Panthers were selected to feature for the NSW Blues in Origin I, coach Ivan Cleary called on a host of NSW Cup players – including Chris Smith and Robert Jennings – to step up and play first grade against the Bulldogs in Round 13.
With big shoes to fill, Smith and Jennings, along with teammates Kurt Falls, Sean O’Sullivan, Charlie Staines and Matt Eisenhuth, were impressive in securing Penrith’s 12th win of the season.
Throughout the representative period, the Panthers will be relying on the depth of the club across all three major grades.
“It’s always a privilege to put on the Panthers jersey,” Smith said.
“I’ve always had aspirations to play first grade for the Panthers so to be able to put that jersey on again and play a few games, I’m forever grateful.”
While for Jennings, the chance to play in the NRL throughout the Origin period has boosted his confidence.
“It was really good, just to get that opportunity … to be able to play NRL. It was such a good win, all the boys stepping up and filling in for the Origin boys.
“I definitely wanted to go out there and play my own game. Filling in, I felt pretty comfortable because I trust the system that we have here, and I trust the boys around me and trust that we’ll get the job done as well.”
Returning to Penrith this year, Smith has been a mainstay of the Peter Wallace’s Knock-On Effect NSW Cup team.
“Coming back in a development sense … I guess the quality of training and just like the quality of players as well, it’s really inspired me to take my game to another level and work that little bit harder,” he explained.
“I’ve learned so much defensively, just those little things, and I feel like it’s helped me a lot.”
Following a strong week of training, Smith and Jennings agree they were in a good place, both mentally and physically, to front the full-strength Bulldogs side on last Friday.
“We prepare the same every week, whether that’s NSW Cup or first grade, it’s just those little extra details like getting the body right and also doing the video, trying to learn a little bit more about your opposition,” Smith said.
“We train so hard, we drill and drill and drill. There are nerves as well, mainly on game day, but the way we prepare, I’m really confident I can go out there and do my job”
But the most important element engrained in players coming through the Panthers’ development system is trust. The ability to understand that hard work will pay off in the long run and sacrifice will be rewarded.
“[The] little things like doing my video, my review, doing a bit of extra stuff that I need to work on … off the field I do a bit of reading to keep my mind from constantly thinking about the game,” Jennings said.
“Everyone here just trusts the system and trusts the process, we go out there and work for each other."