Panther pair closing in on NRL return

Penrith could get a huge power boost ahead of Sunday’s NRL match against Newcastle with props Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Suaia Matagi closing in on timely returns from injury.

The Panthers are facing a mini-crisis in the front row following the loss of Campbell-Gillard (elbow) and Matagi (foot), while the experienced Sam McKendry has been out with an ACL injury.

Jeremy Latimore is also just one game back from a knee problem.

The prop shortage has forced coach Anthony Griffin to reach deep into his front-row stocks, using former winger Sitaleki Akauola in the middle and even handing rookie Moses Leota a start last week.

However Matagi joined Campbell-Gillard in running drills this week to improve both their chances of a recall to bolster their forward pack as the club continues its race to a finals spot.

“Reg (Campbell-Gillard) was great at the start of the year. He was our go-forward and he laid the platform for the forwards, just running hard and giving us that go,” centre Waqa Blake told AAP.

“And Matagi, everyone loves seeing him do those runs off the kickoff. He just picks someone out and just run hard.

“Reg has been doing a few non-contact sessions, but we still don’t want to rush him back in. They’re just being careful with his rehab, as with Matagi as well.”

While forward Trent Merrin has upped his game in recent weeks and Leilani Latu is enjoying a breakout season, Blake praised Leota and Akauola for their efforts at a crucial time.

“It shows the depth of the club, all the boys have been there to step up,” he said.

“Moses obviously played only a few games and then he just got a start. He’s been consistent with what he does, he’s been very professional off the field. Our forwards have definitely stepped up.”

Despite their injury list, which also includes season-ending knee injuries to New Zealand internationals Dean Whare and Peta Hiku, Penrith sit in seventh spot with four regular season games remaining.

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