Penrith's depth a reward for tough 2019

Scott Bailey
Liam Martin is one of the youngsters the Panthers are now benefitting from debuting last year

Penrith's years of promoting junior talent is beginning to pay off in spades with the club's depth a key component of their NRL premiership charge.

The Panthers sit first on the ladder after Thursday night's win over South Sydney, albeit with Parramatta and Newcastle still to play this weekend.

And while the big names like Nathan Cleary and James Fisher-Harris continue to impress, it's their lesser lights standing up just as much in 2020.

Liam Martin has been excellent since coming into the back row for the injured Kurt Capewell, threatening to break through with his right-edge runs.

Winger Brian To'o has been particularly impressive with his powerful runs, while Brent Naden was strong filling in for Josh Mansour on the left wing on Thursday night.

It came after coach Ivan Cleary took the safe option and decided to rest Josh Mansour's problematic knee against Souths and give Naden a start.

"With a nine-day turnaround next week we just thought it was a good chance to get (Mansour) some rest with five days off," Cleary said.

"We have spoken about how we are going to possibly rotate and get these guys playing some footy.

"It was great to see Brent Naden do the job tonight. Hopefully that will happen again down the track."

Penrith's depth is built somewhat on the tough season they had last year.

Seven of the 22 players they have used this year debuted in 2019, with the youngsters looking better for it now.

Jarome Luai was also good in Thursday's win, looking far more experienced than just the 24 games of NRL he has played.

With Nathan Cleary nursing a face infection on the field, Luai was arguably the best half on the field in the opening 40 minutes.

He threw a nice long pass for a Naden try following a Cleary kick, and grubbered on another occasion for young centre Stephen Crichton to cross.

"He's seeing things better all the time," coach Cleary said.

"It was good to take some pressure off Nathan too. He's still constantly got to work on his defence because he is getting targeted.

"That's an area he can continue to work on. In terms of his management of the team, it's going well."