Icons who laid path for club’s Origin dominance

The great hockey coach Ric Charlesworth once said you can’t ignore form. As far as selection philosophies go, it doesn’t get much simpler.

Blues coach Brad Fittler adopted this approach with the selection of six Panthers in the extended squad for the opening State of Origin match in Townsville, as he looks to atone for the side’s shock series loss to an understrength Queensland in 2020, while Kurt Capewell pulls on the maroon jersey once again after his star shone bright last year.

The opening State of Origin match in Townsville will be live on Nine from 7pm.

The Mountain Men have a proud history in the Origin arena, having supplied players to the game’s showcase way back in 1982, when Brad Izzard first donned the sky blue jumper. A total of 35 Panthers have featured in the interstate battle, and when Liam Martin takes the field in Townsville, that number will jump to 38.

Closer examination reveals they represent strongly in every position on the field. So over the course of 40 years, who makes Penrith’s greatest ever Origin side?

FULLBACK: RHYS WESSER (QUEENSLAND) The try scoring machine from Rockhampton was rewarded with selection after a standout 2003 with Penrith. The greatest fullback in history, Billy Slater also made his debut in that series on the wing.

WING: LUKE ROONEY (NSW), MATT SING (QUEENSLAND)

Like Wesser, Rooney was rewarded after an excellent 2003. A quality finisher with pace and strength, Rooney went on to represent the Kangaroos at the end of the year, scoring two tries on his test debut. Formed a potent combination with Ryan Girdler.

If not for the Super League split, Matt Sing may have called Penrith home for a lot longer. One of Fatty’s unheralded cane toads from 1995, Sing carved out a reputation as a big game player. Equally adept in the centres, he played 25 Origin games for Queensland spanning a decade.

CENTRE: RYAN GIRDLER (NSW) MICHAEL JENNINGS (NSW)

An attacking centre and quality goal kicker, Illawarra junior Ryan Girdler set the Origin record for most points in a game (32 in Game Three, 2000) as well as most points in a series. Also had an eye for an intercept.

Michael Jennings scored three hat-tricks for the Panthers in 2009, the year he debuted for NSW. A dynamic ball runner, he represented the Blues on 18 occasions before his career ended after a drugs suspension. The burly Brad Izzard and defensive minded Chris Mortimer would be worthy replacements.

FIVE-EIGHTH: BRAD FITTLER (NSW)

New Souths Wales’ most capped player, the Blues coach played 3 different positions throughout his state career. A 14 time captain and Blues Hall of Famer, the award for the New South Wales player of the series bears his name. One of the all-time greats.

HALFBACK: GREG ALEXANDER (NSW)

While Nathan Cleary’s career is trending, he is yet to leave his mark in the Origin arena. Greg Alexander was identified by Phil Gould as the most gifted player to come through the Penrith ranks. A schoolboy prodigy, the highly skilled half had to compete with the likes of Sterling, Mortimer, Hasler and Stuart for the NSW number 7 jumper.

LOCK: LUKE LEWIS (NSW)

Despite debuting on the wing, Lewis went on to forge one of the great Blues careers. Termed an “Origin player”, he eventually made the move to the forwards. Although the bulk of his representative career was spent playing in the second row, Lewis was named Dally M lock of the year in 2010.

SECOND ROW: JOHN CARTWRIGHT (NSW) MARK GEYER (NSW)

The name Cartwright is synonymous with Penrith. Son of Merv, John “Hoss” Cartwright was a high quality ball playing forward who formed part of the aggressive Penrith pack of the late eighties and early nineties, which saw them make consecutive grand finals.

It’s hard to believe Mark Geyer only played 3 Origin games for the Blues. He’ll forever be remembered for facing up to the King, Wally Lewis in the fiery 1991 series. “MG” copped a six week suspension in game 3 of that year and never wore the jersey again.

PROP: PETERO CIVONICEVA (QLD) PETER KELLY (NSW)

Big Petero was a mainstay of the Maroons pack during the noughties. Despite being thought of primarily as a Bronco, Civoniceva’s move to the foot of the mountains in 2008 didn’t dull his abilities, going on to play in every series while residing in Sydney’s west.

Peter Kelly was considered one of the best never to play for Australia. A hard man from the Warren Ryan Bulldogs era, he finally wore the blue of NSW while playing for Penrith in 1989. He would have played more if not for a back injury which prematurely ended his career.

HOOKER: ROYCE SIMMONS (NSW)

Arguably the greatest Panther, Royce claimed man of the match honours in game 1 of the 1986 series, the first sweep in State of Origin history. He went on to become Penrith’s first ever international player when he played all 6 tests on the 1986 Kangaroo tour.

INTERCHANGE: CRAIG GOWER (NSW) TRENT WATERHOUSE (NSW) ISAAH YEO (NSW) DARRYL BROHMAN (QLD)

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