Jarome Luai’s move to the Wests Tigers in 2025 has dominated back pages for the past few weeks, but the Panthers have a more pressing issue heading into the new season with the three-time defending premiers still trying to figure out who replaces Spencer Leniu on the bench.
Leniu’s move to the Roosters has left a gaping hole for Penrith who must now find someone to come on and blast holes through the middle against tiring forwards.
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The Panthers have always found a way to replace guys like Viliame Kikau, Matt Burton and Api Koroisau, but specialist props are worth their weight in gold and it’s hard to find anyone who plays like Leniu.
While he wasn’t someone who played big minutes, the Samoan prop was a wrecking ball of energy who created plenty of room for halves Luai and Nathan Cleary while starting props James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota were on the bench.
Lindsay Smith had a terrific year off the bench in 2023 but it’s a big ask for him to play like Leniu, while Liam Henry is the frontrunner to win a spot on the bench when they start their premiership defence in Melbourne.
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“Lindsay Smith is Lindsay Smith. He’s completely different to Spencer,” Fisher-Harris replied when asked if Smith would be the man to replace Leniu.
“There’s no Spencer Leniu here and every player is different, but someone else is going to have to stand up.
“They’ve been competing hard against each other (at training), the boys are hungry and the spot is there for somebody.”
Edge forward Scott Sorensen says it’s going to be impossible to replace Leniu’s explosiveness but has backed Fisher-Harris to take his game to unprecedented heights after the prop forward was crowned the Golden Boot winner in 2023 after he helped the Kiwis stun Australia at the end of the year.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all (to see him take his game to the next level),” he said.
“He just came back this week to training and he’s as hungry as ever, as diligent as ever and as hard-working as ever.
“That’s taken him to where he is today, and I don’t expect that to change.
“Everyone knows he’s not the most outspoken person, but in terms of leadership and someone who’s an idol and an inspiration, he’s a role model to everyone here with what he does on off the field.
“Every accolade he gets is well-deserved. The amount of work he puts into his game and the way he devotes his body to the team is unbelievable.
“I’m over the moon that he got that award.”
The Panthers will face their first major test against Wigan in the World Club Challenge next month where Luai remains in serious doubt as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.
The five-eighth didn’t train on Tuesday but Sorensen said it was too early to rule him out of the trip to the UK given he’s performed strongly when he has trained.
Luai’s move to the Tigers will provide a huge opportunity for someone to play alongside Cleary in the halves next year, with Brad Schneider, Daine Laurie and Jack Cole the frontrunners.
“The role is being shared around at the moment, but in terms of Romey, he’s looking pretty good at the moment and doing everything he can to be ready for that game in Wigan,” Sorensen said.
“I’m sure whoever will eventually take that spot will do an amazing job. Daine, Brad and Jack Cole are all options and they’re all having great pre-seasons.”
Source website: www.foxsports.com.au