Newly re-signed Penrith veteran Peter Wallace has backed the club’s rookie halves’ pairing to lead the side to an unlikely NRL finals berth.
Pencilled in as the club’s halfback in the pre-season, Wallace is the club’s first-choice hooker for the next two seasons after extending his contract on Monday until the end of the 2018 season.
“I remember I met with (coach Anthony Griffin) at the start of the year and he said, ‘I want to start with you in the halves’,” Wallace told AAP.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen during the year, but that was the way we’re going to start and we’ll just see how it goes’.”
It took just one round for Griffin’s plans to turn upside down, with Wallace deputising for an injured James Segeyaro and doing such a strong job that Segeyaro was made dispensable by mid-season.
Another experienced campaigner in Jamie Soward was also let go last month, paving the way for rookie halfback Nathan Cleary to establish himself as the club’s No.1 playmaker.
Wallace is confident the 18-year-old Cleary, together with fellow youngster Te Maire Martin, could thrust the eighth-placed Panthers into the finals.
Martin makes his long-awaited return from a shoulder injury via reserve grade this week and is expected to return to top grade the following round.
“Nath’s a bit of a different mould than a normal rookie half. I wouldn’t call him old, but his temperament is just right for first grade,” Wallace said.
“And Te Maire’s obviously played a handful of games and handled all the pressure that came with playing his first season earlier this year. I’m really confident in both of them.”
Wallace praised Griffin, who had told Wallace he was free to depart Brisbane in 2013, for keeping the Panthers in contention for a top-eight spot despite the constant changes in the playing roster.
“Our whole spine’s changed, people playing different positions and different personnel. I think the team’s done a great job, and Hook’s done a great job to get everyone ready to be in the position we’re in now,” he said.