Mansour to play big part in 2017: Griffin

Injured winger Josh Mansour remains a big piece of Penrith’s title push this NRL season, says coach Anthony Griffin.

Less than three months after undergoing major knee surgery, Mansour took a significant step towards his comeback after progressing to straight-line running last week.

It was feared the Australian and NSW Origin representative would have missed a large chunk of the 2017 season, however Griffin is hoping to have his star back by round 12.

“He’s coming along good. He’ll be, at this stage, around round 12-14,” Griffin told AAP.

“He’s a quick healer and he obviously looks after himself. He’s very fit and rehabs very well. We’re happy with where he is at the moment. He’s doing everything he can.”

Mansour is currently the only injury worry from a Panthers squad that last week welcomed back centre pairing Dean Whare and Peta Hiku from long-term injury in a trial win over Canterbury.

Like Mansour, the former Kiwi internationals both came back from knee reconstructions, with Whare played 40 minutes and Hiku a pre-planned 20-minute cameo.

Five-eighth Te Maire Martin also came through unscathed in his first NRL appearance since major shoulder surgery, as did new recruit Tim Browne, who had ankle surgery in the summer.

The collection of successful comebacks, particularly the centres, provides Griffin with a selection headache ahead of their season-opener against St George-Illawarra on March 4.

Last year’s centre duo of Tyrone Peachey and Waqa Blake enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2016, helping Penrith to a fairytale run to the semi-final.

Peachey is widely expected to move back to the bench in a utility role, while Mansour’s absence allows Blake or Hiku to play on the flanks.

Penrith play their final trial against Parramatta at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.

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