Penrith skipper Luke Lewis has revealed a conversation between him and Michael Jennings at last month’s NRL All Stars camp has been the catalyst for his sizzling start to the new NRL season.
Jennings scored two tries in Penrith’s 18-0 win over Sydney Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Sunday and showed glimpses of the form that made him the most exciting young centre in the game.
The NSW three-quarter endured a horrendous season in 2011, scoring just one try for the Panthers and suffering a series of injuries and off-field issues.
However, he now has three tries in two games and Lewis has been delighted with how he is contributing to the side on and off the field.
“Me and Jenko have had a bit of a talk and I said to him that I really need him by my side this year and help me lead the team,” Lewis said.
“I wanted him to take one of those forward steps and be one of those players people we can count on when we need some points.
“I just said to him that everyone looks up to him, and he’s done it really well.”
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said he has noticed a change in Jennings since his arrival at the club and said it was evident that despite all of his talent, Jennings had lost his confidence.”
“Like everyone he suffers from confidence and he had some off-field issues as well,” Cleary said.
“That will help him today because he has worked really hard and improved through the pre-season.”
Jennings scored a try in each half with prop Sam McKendry opening the scoring with a marauding 30-metre run where he brushed aside three tackles on his way to the line.
His second try saw him sprint 45 metres after pouncing on a loose ball following a mix-up between Boyd Cordner and Sam Perrett.
“I definitely think his speed is back,” Lewis said.
“When he jumped on that loose ball it was a great sight and he has been working really hard on his footwork and his talk on the field.”
Roosters coach Brian Smith admitted his side’s poor display could have been a legacy of last Monday’s last-minute win over South Sydney.
“We sort of got into a number of little half chances but never really capitalised on any of them and got our tails well and truly kicked,” Smith said.
The veteran coach was also aggrieved at what he claimed was the over-use of wrestling by Penrith’s players in an attempt to slow down the ruck and said he would be speaking to referees’ chief Bill Harrigan to define what is acceptable.
“I’ve had four experienced guys come up to me and say they felt that it was over the top,” Smith said.
“You get tackled around the ankles and they just won’t let go. They can shake and shake and they won’t let go.
“I am not complaining, I am just saying today the ruck was really slow and we weren’t as good as Penrith were to react to that and we need to learn fast if that is how it’s going to be for the rest of this season.”