Peter Wallace knows what it takes to make it at the top.
His NRL playing career stretched across 240 games, while he represented Scotland in four International Tests and played for NSW in the State of Origin.
Now, Wallace is nurturing the next generation of Panthers, teaching them how to build resilience and believe in themselves.
This weekend, his efforts as a head coach will be tested when his new-look contingent takes on the North Sydney Bears in the first round of the NSW Cup 2022 finals series.
While Lindsay Smith and Soni Luke will be take the opportunity to play in the NRL against the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday, they’re confident the players selected to fill their shoes will shine on-field because of Wallace’s attitude as a coach.
“Wal’s unreal, he’s really positive and he’s really good with us younger boys especially. He’s really direct with telling us what he wants from the team,” Smith said.
“He’s definitely someone you want to play for, and I think that shows in our results from the season. He’s a really good coach and you really want to win for him.”
Luke shares a similar experience to Smith, saying that Wallace has taught him to believe in his own abilities as a playmaker.
“Wal’s impact has been enormous, he fills me with loads of confidence and backs me to play what I see. His support has been massive for me,” he said.
“I can probably make one or two mistakes and he’ll still be there backing me to go again and pull the trigger on things I see out there, so yeah he’s been awesome.”
As a coach, Wallace boosted his playing groups confidence by encouraging more senior players in the team, like Smith and Luke, to lead by example and encourage younger players, including rising star Isaiah Iongi.
Smith recalls the difficulty of learning how to step up in a leadership role but says by taking on that responsibility, he can give younger players the same assurance that Wallace has instilled in him.
“That’s something that I’ve had to really learn this year, the first couple of games where we lost boys to Origin, I didn’t really handle it too well being in a leader role,” he said.
“It took a little bit of learning, but now I know I have to give them the confidence that they need, because they’re really talented young players. I really try to lead by example when I can.”
“They’ve got the talent but they need to believe it. Guys like Soni, Mainey [J’maine Hopgood] and myself, we try to help the younger guys out.”
Luke leads in a similar way to his teammate, agreeing that confidence is a major factor when it comes to encouraging the younger players in the team.
“I guess I probably back them in a similar way to how Wal backs me, just backing making sure they know whatever they’re doing in Flegg, they can do it just as good in Cup too,” the 26-year-old said.
Maintaining regular minutes in NSW Cup towards the end of the regular season, Iongi reflects on his decision to move from Queensland to Penrith, stating it was a “smart decision” to join the club.
"Penrith’s a really good club to be around, all the boys back me to do my job,” Iongi said.
The 19-year-old says playing in NSW Cup isn’t as different to playing in the Jersey Flegg competition than what he initially expected.
“I think it’s really just the physicality of the game that’s different. Bigger bodies, bigger boys and obviously there’s more guys with NRL experience too,” he said.
“It’s really good for me to be able to get the reps in and get that experience moving forward.”
Focused on the challenge ahead, Wallace’s Panthers won four of their last five regular season games and will look to carry that momentum into the first round of finals.
The Panthers look to defeat the North Sydney Bears for the third time this season, on Saturday September 3 at 3:10pm at St Marys Leagues Stadium. The match will be streamed on Channel 9.
Match: Panthers v Bears
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: St Marys Leagues Stadium, Sydney