For much of the last two years, most of the focus around Penrith and their on field success has landed on Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
It’s a natural lens the rugby league media and fans look through. The halves do the things that ultimately lead to points. Nathan Cleary is a fairly prolific point scorer himself in his young career.
Then you’ve also got the blockbusting ball running of Brian To’o.
He’s not the first cannonball sized winger to be key to his side’s success.
Matt Utai had to ping pong off defenders so Brian To’o could run over them.
But holding this all together is a lock who was once seen as an average back-rower who could play some centre.
Isaah Yeo made his debut for the Panthers at centre. He spent much of that rookie year bouncing between centre, bench and second row.
And that’s where he stayed for much of his early career. It wasn’t until the last two games of the 2015 regular season that he played lock. There was a pretty good reason for that.
Elijah Taylor and Nigel Plum were the locks of choice during Ivan Cleary’s first stint at the club.
By the midway point of 2016 he had established himself in the second row, playing on an edge. But he was a good line runner and a reasonable defender. He wasn’t slicing teams apart.
Trent Merrin was the lock by this point in time. Even as recently as 2019 he wasn’t the lock of choice. That job was being done by James Fisher-Harris.
By 2020 though and with Fisher-Harris moving into the front row, Yeo moved to the back of the scrum where he has since unlocked his best football.
His winning percentage in the seven years before 2020 was at 46.1 percent. Since moving to lock, when he’s in the side Penrith win 91 percent of the time.
There are of course plenty of moving parts to that statistic and Yeo isn’t solely responsible for the virtual doubling of the win percentage.
But his move to lock has opened up the best of the Penrith attack, and allowed Nathan Cleary to play with a freedom few halves get to enjoy.
In round four rugby league returned to the foot of the mountains for the first time in more than 200 days.
The 2021 Premiers got to perform in front of their adoring fans for the first time since winning the competition last year.
And what a day it was.
Fans were trickling into BlueBet Stadium well before kick-off. The earthy smell of the turf hung in the air. It’s a smell that is becoming rarer and rarer as modern stadiums continue to spring up, but the family hill stirs up an unforgettable feeling of nostalgia.
History beckons for the Parramatta Eels as they head into a preliminary final against the heavily favoured North Queensland Cowboys.
Recalling a legendary player or former coach is often tempting for a club trying to recapture former glory. But rarely does it work, and often it tarnishes the coach’s legacy.
Harry Grant has filled the Melbourne Storm boots of Cameron Smith and seems to be taking the hooking position to the next level.