RCG best Panthers rookie since Jennings

Penrith’s NRL season might be being brought undone by injuries, but it won’t stop prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard from putting together one of the finest rookie seasons by a local junior in a decade.

Not since Michael Jennings appeared 23 times in 2007 has a first-year Panther played in more than half the games in the season.

He also made his representative debut for City in Wagga Wagga earlier this year.

Named to play his 14th match in Sunday’s clash against the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, the 21-year-old police student has been a rock in a team beset by constant injuries.

“It’s pretty cool. All I’ve been doing is trying to develop my game each week and Ivan (Cleary) has been giving me a chance to do that,” Campbell-Gillard told AAP.

Since making his debut in the first round, the towering front-rower has been just one of four players on the Panthers roster to have played in every single game this year.

Only Newcastle have had fewer players forced to nurse injuries on the sideline.

“Yeah, but dropping heads doesn’t help,” he said.

“We have to try and perform each week and we have to try and perform for our fans.

“If you’re dropping your head, you’re definitely going to get beaten.

“You try and stay positive, try and build for the next game and hopefully turn that into two points.”

Even more impressive is the fact that Campbell-Gillard took the field against Canterbury last week with a dislocated finger suffered in a loss to Melbourne in round 20.

The Fijian representative immediately went under the knife then, after a bye, proceeded to make 117 metres and 21 tackles against the Bulldogs.

“It was meant to be a four-week injury, so it was actually just two weeks,” he said.

“(Ivan) just asked me if it was yes or no. Obviously I said yes and just playing with it feels weird, but hopefully it gets better.”

Earlier this month, Campbell-Gillard signed a three-year extension to stay at the foot of the mountains, where he hopes to take over from retiring veterans Brent Kite and Nigel Plum.

“Kitey was massive in my development, as has everyone else – Sam McKendry, Nigel Plum and Latsy (Jeremy Latimore) as well,” he said.

“They all basically told me to play my own game and work for each other.

“That’s what I try to do each week.”

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