Panthers Youth Prepare for Battle
Such is the situation with the Penrith Panthers Youth League men’s team, which has lost starting centre Laat Amat Gak to a knee injury ( out for a minimum of three weeks), back-up centre Jarrod Sorenson to international commitments in New Zealand (for an indefinite period) and power forward Madol Chol to international commitments with the Australian Institute of Sport in Europe (four weeks).
The Panthers are already under plenty of pressure, having seen their blazing start to the season (5-0) in danger of being snuffed out following three consecutive losses – in the last three rounds - to the Central Coast Crusaders (89-80), Hills District Hornets (79-74) and Sydney City Comets (102-81).
The news may not get any brighter for the beleaguered Penrith team over the next three rounds, with the sixth-placed Panthers facing two of the top-ranked teams in the Youth League competition, beginning this Sunday with another encounter against the first-placed Crusaders (May 27).
This will be followed by a game against the eighth-placed Illawarra Hawks on June 2, then the third-placed Manly Warringah Sea Eagles on June 16.
Outstanding centre Callum Ferguson is the leading point-scorer in the competition and will undoubtedly be the danger man in the Crusaders line-up.
Ferguson is sharing his playing time between Youth League and the Championship League and his form has been outstanding in both competitions.
Whilst the Panthers are still a realistic chance of toppling the lower-ranked Hawks, the Sea Eagles may however have too many big guns.
David Hazzard and Kyle Painter are both currently in the Top Ten Point-Scorers Charts this season, whilst Australian Under 17 representative Nick Duncan should also be back for this game, giving the Sea Eagles even more scoring clout.
Panthers head coach Steve Sardi has been happy with the offensive work of his young team this season, defensive lapses and a “lack of discipline” have been telling factors, particularly in the two most recent losses.
“I was disappointed with our defensive efforts in the third quarter (against Hills) and the lack of discipline to stay out of foul trouble, with some of the players” said Sardi.
“One quarter lost us the game and we need to maintain the intensity in all four quarters - some of us still have not learnt that lesson”.
Speaking about the game against the Comets, Sardi said “It was disappointing to see the guys’ lack of defence in this game”.
“We gave away way too many lay-ups and second chances - we now have to regroup and move forward to our next game and its challenges ahead”.
“Losing Laat through injury, Madol going to Europe with the AIS and Jarrod in New Zealand will certainly have an impact on our team but these challenges are ones that will test our unity and make us stronger.”
Central Coast Crusaders 89 def Penrith Panthers 80 (Ben Wagenfeller 27 points, Curtleigh Albertyn 20, Madol Chol 12)
Hills District Hornets 79 def Penrith Panthers 74 (Ben Wagenfeller 26 points, Ben Kearins 17, Curtleigh Albertyn 11, Laat Amat Gak 11)
Sydney City Comets 102 def Penrith Panthers 81 (Ben Wagenfeller 29 points, Brandon Gordon 17, Luke Griffith 12)
PHOTO: Cameron Salman in action for the Panthers