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TOPIC: Penrith Panthers under 20s on record pace

Penrith Panthers under 20s on record pace 2 years 1 month ago #24181

  • mutley
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Penrith Panthers under 20s on record pace and proving Phil Gould’s grassroots philosophy

WHEN Phil Gould arrived at Penrith he brought with him a vision to create a dominant club stacked with home grown players.

Gould couldn’t believe that a club like the Panthers, with arguably the richest nursery of young talent in rugby league, hadn’t capitalised on its junior base with a philosophy to make the most of it.

Five years later and critics have started to round on Gould for his inability to translate his vision to the ultimate success at NRL level.

Dig a little deeper and this season’s crop of under 20s could be proof the vision is starting to materialise, with the Holden Cup Panthers on pace to become one of the most dominant sides we’ve ever seen.

After just eight rounds, the Penrith side coached by ex-player Cameron Ciraldo has a points differential of +206, building further on the dominance of last year’s premiership winning team.

To put that differential into perspective for those who don’t watch the under 20s competition, Wayne Bennett’s blistering Broncos and Paul Green’s champion Cowboys are well behind on +137 and +124 respectively.

In fact after eight rounds, the points differential compiled by Ciraldo’s side has only been bettered twice in rugby league history, taking into account the life of the current under 20s format as well as the top grade competition since 1908.

The two sides at the top of the charts? Bennett’s 1996 Broncos with +218 and the 1935 Roosters, with +214.

Unsurprisingly, Ciraldo isn’t getting ahead of himself, telling dryly that no prizes get handed out for records broken after eight rounds.

But he can’t hide the pride he has in a group of players that has come up through the ranks as mates and are putting the hard yards in to develop into the core of a future NRL team to be feared.


Of Ciraldo’s squad of 40, he says that about 30 are Penrith juniors, with the 10 from other areas living in a house together in the adjoining suburb of Cranebrook.

The coach says it’s “a definite advantage” having such a large percentage come through together, proving the foundation of Gould’s philosophy.

“The strength of the squad is how tight they are and how united they are and they’re all best mates who love turning up to training each day and working hard together and hanging around each other,” Ciraldo says.

“It’s definitely an advantage that a lot of them have played Harold Matthews Cup (under 16s) and SG Ball (under 18s) together.

“I met a lot of them when they were playing SG Ball three years ago and that core group has come through to the 20s this year, so it’s been really enjoyable to see them all come through together and how close they’ve become and how well they work together.

“They were a young side last year so that’s sort of helped having them stay together this year — that’s been a definite advantage.

“Obviously they’re a very talented group and being in the under 20s and representing your area is a pretty special honour.”


One of the biggest concerns in rugby league circles, particularly in NSW, in recent years has been that the best and brightest are “overcoached” when they’re young.

It’s a point that has been used to explain the lack of top-tier playmakers produced by the NSW system in the last decade and it seems to be a pattern Penrith and Gould are acutely aware of.

While Ciraldo’s side is clearly a very gifted attacking side, having chalked up 308 points so far this season already, a whopping average of 38.5 per game, he attributes that to the natural gifts of his players, rather than a focus on systems or structures.

“We don’t focus much on our attack, the players are that naturally skilful that the worst thing you could do for them is overcoach them and focus too much on attack,” Ciraldo explains.

“We just get their defence right and their attitude and the principles that we want them to play with and their natural ability’s taken care of most of the attack.

“They’re a really skilful bunch and the attack comes naturally to them.

“You see some of the tries they score and you can’t coach that sort of stuff, so what we mainly do is focus on our defence.”

Purely by the numbers, he and the rest of the coaching staff are doing a superb job at that too, with his side conceding just 102 points so far this season, which is only bettered at the more defensively-tough NRL level by Bennett’s stingy Broncos, who have conceded 81.


Anyone who plays sport competitively is in it to win it but Ciraldo says a point stressed by Gould is that winning isn’t important to the development of young players.

Instead, Ciraldo is told to focus on improving the game of each individual, day-by-day and week-by-week, to equip them for the jump to the NRL.

“For us the big thing, and this is coming from Gus, it’s not about the results,” Ciraldo says.

“We don’t talk about results, we don’t talk about winning or losing it’s just about improving each week and getting better and getting these individuals ready to play NRL.

“Gus told me when he gave me the job a year and a half ago that he wants me to get the players and improve them every week and every day.

“Don’t focus on results, just worry about teaching them to play footy and the defence part for me was a big focus because the 20s teams aren’t usually known for their defence. The scorelines end in blowouts and that’s something we really want to avoid.

“If we’re winning 2-0 we’re really happy with that because that means we’re defending well and if we can get our defence right that’s the most pleasing thing for us.”


Like any coach, Ciraldo doesn’t like singling out individuals. But after a bit of a squeeze he concedes there have been some standouts who have already been given the opportunity to train at the next level, with the NSW Cup team.

One of them, Robert Jennings, has already tasted the big time and Ciraldo is convinced he’s got a big future in first grade ahead of him.

“Robert Jennings has played first grade already and I’m sure he’s going to play a whole lot more in the future,” Ciraldo says.

“They’re all capable of playing first grade, that’s why they’re in our system and over the next 12 to 24 months the ones that work hardest will be the ones that go up.

“A lot of them have trained with NSW Cup this season for a period — Dylan Edwards, Tyrone May, Nathan Cleary, Oliver Clark — they all got a chance to train up with NSW Cup at a higher level against NRL players so they’ve had a bit of exposure there and a lot of them are playing NSW Cup (soon).

“Hopefully a number of them get selected for the Junior Kangaroos and Kiwis this weekend but I can’t single anyone out because there’s more than 10 now that are capable of playing NRL.”
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Penrith Panthers under 20s on record pace 2 years 1 month ago #24191

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Congratulations to Dylan Walker, Robert Jennings, Nathan Cleary and Tyrone May on their selection in the Junior Kangaroos team for the up-coming Test against NZ. They've all be in sparkling form in recent weeks and fully deserve their selection.
6' , 115klg prop Cowen Epere has been selected for the Kiwi side to face the Junior Kangaroos. Former Minchinbury Jet junior Epere has been one of the unsung heroes of our U20's side this season, he's been in dominant form and will be even better with this, his first rep match, under his belt. But for injury, I'm sure he'd have been packing down against teammate Ollie Clark.
Lets hope they all come through the Test unscathed.

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