Penrith may be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon but winger Josh Mansour is adamant general manager Phil Gould’s five-year plan is still on track.
The Panthers have fallen from grace dramatically this season, going from a top four finish and getting to within one game of the grand final last year to sitting in 15th with one game to play.
Injuries have taken its toll and the Panthers could put together a formidable 13 with players sitting in their rehab unit.
Mansour says while there is no shying away from the fact they are in contention for last spot, things are looking up at the foot of the mountains.
“I don’t think anyone would have predicted it would pan out like the season has panned out,” Mansour said.
“It’s been very tough and it’s taken its toll on all of us.
“It’s hard when you’ve got players missing every week and you’ve got 10 of your main starters out.
“It’s going to take its toll. We can learn a lot from this season, especially the young guys that have got some first grade games under their belt.
“The only way is up.”
Mansour says things at Penrith aren’t as bad as what their position on the ladder suggests and they have a bright future.
When Gould took over at Penrith he launched an audacious plan to make the Panthers a force again and invest heavily in local juniors.
They have a number of top-liners leaving the club at the end of the season including Lewis Brown (Manly), Sika Manu (Hull FC) and Api Koroisau (Manly) while stalwarts David Simmons, Brent Kite and Nigel Plum are retiring.
Coach Ivan Cleary has also been linked with a move back to the Warriors.
But Mansour describes the club as on the up with the likes of Trent Merrin and highly rated New Zealand under-20s half Te Maire Martin arriving next year.
Their injury woes this week have been compounded with playmaker Jamie Soward (concussion) and back-rower Bryce Cartwright (lacerated kidney) at long odds to take the field for Sunday’s wooden-spoon battle with Newcastle.
Soward spent the night in hospital after suffering a head knock but was back at Panthers headquarters on Wednesday consulting with team doctors.
Cartwright, who was urinating blood after the side’s bruising clash with Canberra on Monday night, is still in Canberra Hospital.
“It adds to our injury ward and Jamie is one of our main generals and he controls most of our kicking as well,” Mansour said.
“It’s going to be hard on Chicko (James Segeyaro) and Api (Koroisau) and they’re going to need to really stand up to the challenge.”