Bryce Cartwright’s time in the Penrith halves could come to an end following Monday’s NRL clash with Sydney Roosters with Te Maire Martin closing in on a return to top grade.
The Panthers makeshift halves pairing of Cartwright and young gun Nathan Cleary have punched above their weight to guide the side into finals contention.
However their partnership could come to an end as early as next Sunday’s match with last-placed Newcastle with Martin nearing a first-grade comeback.
Martin, 20, looked set for a breakout rookie season – memorably kicking the game-winning field goal in his debut against Brisbane – before suffering a long-term shoulder injury.
He returned a fortnight ago through reserve grade and coach Anthony Griffin could run out a rookie halves pairing of Martin and Cleary against the Knights.
“The performances have been really good the last two-and-a-half weeks since halftime against Parramatta,” Griffin said on Sunday.
“A lot of that has got to do with the way Nathan and Bryce have been playing.
“Te Maire is obviously going to be a part of our future. In a week, two weeks, three weeks, whatever it is, if he’s fit and well and that suits the team and if he comes in, then it’s not a matter of being a tough decision, it’s just something that’s going to make our team better.”
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was still a week away from returning from a knee injury and wouldn’t be risked against the Panthers.
After Gold Coast’s loss to the Warriors on Sunday, the Panthers will have a chance to jump back into the top eight.
While the 15th placed Roosters are playing for nothing but personal pride after positive showings in their tough-fought loss to Melbourne and last week’s win over Brisbane.
“We want to play well against Penrith, we’re trying to train well and play our best footy,” Robinson said.
“I felt like we’ve done that in the last few weeks but we’ve still got improvement left in us.
“Our focus is to continue to play our best footy and we’ll look to do that tomorrow night.”
STATS THAT MATTER
*Aside from a 26-10 loss to the Sharks in round 18 all of Penrith’s home matches have been decided by five points or less, with all three of their wins by four or less.
* The Panthers are ranked first in offloads (13.8 per game) and third in tackle busts (26.3 per game).
* The Roosters have won just one of nine away games this season, with four of those losses by four points or less.
Source: Fox Sports Stats