Five-eighth Tyrone May (C) is one of Penrith’s young group of leaders taking responsibility in the finals. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
The Penrith trio of Nathan Cleary, Tyrone May and Dylan Edwards are part of the youngest spine for any team contesting the NRL finals.
On Friday night, with the help of veteran Peter Wallace, they will steer the Panthers around the park for their biggest match of the season, a semi-final against the Broncos in Brisbane.
It is certainly no easy task, but the young guns exhibit an air of confidence that will hold them in good stead.
Earlier this week, Broncos hooker Ben Hunt unintentionally heaped the spotlight on Cleary, stating that it will not be hard for him to “get to the heights” of the Cowboys’ champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston.
It is a huge wrap, but one the 19-year-old Panther thinks is a little premature.
“It was a bit weird, it’s pretty nice from Ben Hunt, but I don’t think I even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Johnathan Thurston,” he said.
“But I will keep working on my game and hopefully (get to that level) sometime down the track.”
Teammate and fellow member of the club’s department of youth, 21-year-old full-back Dylan Edwards, says the comparisons are warranted.
“Oh that is massive for him and probably justified I reckon. It could be possible for him if he keeps going the way he is and I am sure he will, he trains very hard,” Edwards says.
“(For that comment) to come from Ben Hunt is pretty good, he is a world class player himself.”
While Cleary experienced the highs and lows of finals football last season with a win over the Bulldogs and a season ending loss to the Raiders, Albury-born Edwards and local junior May only got their first taste of the pressure cooker atmosphere on Saturday.
For May, the occasion was at first overwhelming.
“It was a bit surreal, everyone said it steps up a level in the finals, the pace was a bit crazy and hard to get used to,” he said.
“It was a very tough and emotional win, obviously we got dusted by them the week before.”
What made the occasion a bit easier for the two finals debutants is that they have played plenty of football together in the past. Tyrone May says its a bonus for the team that the trio of playmakers know each other’s games so well.
“It does help when most of the spine [are local juniors], I have come through the system and played with them for most of my juniors and 20’s so it puts my mind at ease and it helps when Nathan is controlling the team and I can just do what I want out there.”
Edwards admitted he was a bundle of nerves in the leadup to the match, but knows the pressure gauge will once again be turned up to 10 in Brisbane.
“I was nervous then relieved that we got the win, but very nervous, there was a good crowd there, it was hostile with a lot of Manly fans but I am sure it’s going to be worse on Friday night.”
May filling Moylan’s shoes in September
With Matt Moylan still in doubt to take the field again this season as he deals with personal issues, May has stepped up and made a fist of the number six jumper in his place.
He only debuted in Round 19 but has scored five tries in his eight games in grade and is a threat whenever the ball is in his hands.
Penrith is dealing with finals in the absence of star Matt Moylan, who is taking personal leave. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
On Friday night he will come up against another junior prodigy, Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford. He looks forward to the challenge.
“It is a bit crazy, I remember I was playing Harold Matthews (Under 16’s) and he was playing S.G Ball for Canberra and he kicked this crazy field goal against the Roosters, it came off both posts and then the crossbar and went over,” May says.
“He is the sort of player that you look up to coming through the grades, he is going to be hard to handle.”
While May is firing on the field, Moylan will be assessed by club medical staff off it, to determine if he will pull on the boots again this season.
There is talk he could be cleared to play against the Broncos in some capacity. Cleary says while the team is winning without him, the players are hopeful Moylan can get himself right and return to the game he loves.
“Yeah we are hopeful of that, but you know his health kind of comes first, we are all supporting him here at the club and hopefully he can get back on the field soon,” he said.