Penrith has named Isaah Yeo as captain of a young and largely inexperienced Auckland Nines squad featuring eight debutants, as coach Anthony Griffin made good on his promise to omit players who either played in the Four Nations series, selected to play in the upcoming All-Stars game or have had disrupted pre-season preparations.
With so many big names missing, the likes of James Tamou, Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake and Yeo will compliment a largely locally-produced squad, containing ten players who were part of Penrith’s Holden Cup winning side in 2015.
The youthfulness of the squad is such that Tamou, who won the tournament with North Queensland in 2014, has more NRL experience (170 NRL games) then the rest of the squad combined (142 NRL games).
Tamou, along with Jed Cartwright and Darren Nicholls are set to make their first appearance in Panther colors tomorrow since joining the club.
Yeo, who is set to become the only Panther to have played in all four Nines tournaments since its inception in 2014, was shocked but equally excited by his appointment as skipper, having never previously captained a side in his time as a Panther.
“It wasn’t something I expected to do, to be captain of the club in any format of the game,” Yeo declared.
“I’m very excited to be getting this experience and I’m looking to getting out there and leading the team and having a good tournament.
“This is my fourth nines tournament. I’ve been lucky enough to play in all three previously and it’s a really fun weekend.”
Although Yeo can understand the club’s stance on the tournament given it’s injury record in previous Nines, the Dubbo junior says the youthful squad still has plenty of incentive to do well, adding that the weekend ahead will especially be beneficial to the high number of players that have recently graduated from the Holden Cup.
“There’s always that chance of injury but you put that to the back of your mind and play as well as you can,” Yeo said.
“Obviously the big picture is the Bulldogs trial the weekend after and being ready for Round One.
“But we’re representing Penrith so I’m sure all the boys will be really excited and can’t wait for a few days in Auckland.
“It’s an exciting tournament and it will be really good especially for the younger players coming out of 20’s as they really don’t often get to experience a big crowd until they get a chance to play in the Auckland Nines.”
Qualifying for the next phase of the competition won’t be easy as Penrith will have to overcome Waiheke Pool opponents and fellow 2016 NRL finalists, Canterbury (Sat Feb 4, 10:25am AEDST),defending NRL premiers, Cronulla (Sat Feb 4,1:55pm AEDST) and the Gold Coast (Sun Feb 5,9am AEDST).
Each opponent have named strong squads on paper, featuring the likes of Josh Reynolds, Sam Kasiano, David Klemmer (Bulldogs), Wade Graham, Luke Lewis, Jack Bird (Sharks) and Jarryd Hayne, Ryan James and Kane Elgey (Titans).