Wade Graham Penrith PanthersAs the Panthers prepare to take on the Cronulla Sharks at the weekend, has coach Matt Elliott got the halves mix right or has he once again ‘tinkered’ too much with a promising combination?

Rookie half Wade Graham was told earlier in the week he wouldn’t be in the side for the clash, with Penrith veteran Luke Lewis getting the nod over the teenage sensation. So as Jarrod Sammut comes back into favour with coach Elliott, another rookie on the rise gets pushed back out of the side.

Graham confirmed he was “shattered” to be omitted from the Penrith season opener against Cronulla on Saturday, will all eyes now focused on the match – with a fresh new season allowing the Panthers to rebuild and start again; many punters were stunned to see Lewis thrust into the halves above the specialist rookie Graham. While there is no questioning the ability or experience of Lewis; it was believed that the new-look Panthers halves pairing of Sammut and Graham could form a strong combination for the team to build around.

No so according to Elliott; with the coach seeming to prefer a safety first option rather than building for the future.

The pairing of Sammut and Graham had seemingly made good progress in the three trial games so far in 2009, but that link is now forgotten with Lewis in the mix.

While Graham said he was naturally shocked to be left out of the game, he would just have to work harder to get into the top squad. “I just have to cop it on the chin and go back and try to play some good footy and earn my way back into the side,” said Graham.

“There is a lot of competition there. (Elliott) just pulled me in earlier in the week and said I wasn’t in the 17. I have to go and work on my game before I get back in there. Luke is a great player and deserves his spot.”

After finishing High School at the end of last year – this has been the first complete pre-season for teenager Graham. “I was stoked with my preseason. I was pretty shattered when he told me I wasn’t playing but what can you do,” he said.

“I just have to try and play some footy now. You can’t do anything about it, I just have to work my way in. I know there’s always areas you can improve and I will just go back now and do my best and see how I go.”

The decision by Elliott brings back memories of the situation Peter Wallace found himself in at the club, the super talented former Penrith half wasn’t getting the respect he deserved and was soon snapped up by rival club Brisbane Broncos, eventually going on to represent NSW in State of Origin. Lets just hope for Panthers fans the same doesn’t happen to their next big thing waiting in the wings.

By ricky

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