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Carty ready to spoil party for old mates, Panthers on verge of all-time record

Parramatta utility Bryce Cartwright says Penrith will always hold a special place in his heart, except for next week, as he waits to discover whether he will line up in the NRL grand final against his former club.

The 27-year-old got a late call-up to the bench for the 24-20 preliminary final win over North Queensland after centre Tom Opacic was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

If Opacic does not recover in time for Sunday’s decider, Cartwright will likely figure against the club where he played his best football in four seasons from 2014-2017.

The Cartwright name has a special connection with the Panthers with Bryce’s father David Cartwright playing for the club and his 1991 premiership-winning uncle John Cartwright one of the finest forwards Penrith has ever produced.

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“It will always hold a special place in my heart. That is where I grew up and where my family is from. I have always been fond of them but … I won’t be next week,” said Cartwright.

“I wouldn’t think too much of it. I’ve played them a few times at the Gold Coast and a couple of times at Parra. I have put all that behind me as a kid when I was there. I have moved on from that now.”

An accidental poke in the eye to Eels back-rower Shaun Lane during the first half led to Cartwright being on the field earlier than expected against the Cowboys.

Bryce Cartwright (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

“I guess the good thing about myself is that I can go on in the middle or on the edge,” Cartwright said.

Cartwright’s career was on the skids when he left the Gold Coast to be with family in Sydney for personal reasons in 2020 and was subsequently released by the club without a new deal.

“It was pretty scary at the time but I never lost faith or belief in myself, whether that was playing park footy or NRL,” Cartwright said.

“Thankfully enough Brad Arthur gave my manager a call and this is where I am now.

“I am a positive person, I didn’t let (not having a club) faze me

“Something I always dreamed of as a kid is playing in an NRL grand final. It is pretty crazy and hopefully I am in the team next week.

“The amount of people who have worked hard to get (Parramatta) where it is now and get a chance to win the whole thing next week is pretty special.”

Cartwright said it would be “pretty cool to see a Parra-Penrith grand final” and even better if the Eels could end a 36-year premiership drought. 

Penrith on track for all-time dominance

Nathan Cleary claims Penrith’s development across the board in the past decade is immeasurable after the club stayed on track for the most dominant all-grade season in the game’s history.

A day after they qualified for their third straight grand final, Penrith’s NRL squad backed up to watch the club win both the NSW Cup and under-21s Jersey Flegg grand finals at CommBank Stadium.

After also winning the under-19s SG Ball grand final in April, Penrith became the first club to claim the reserve grade and two top underage competitions since Balmain in 1982.

If their first-grade team are able to topple Parramatta in next Sunday’s NRL grand final, it would mark the only time in history a team has claimed all four of the titles.

“That’s a lot of pressure on us next week,” NRL coach Ivan Cleary quipped to AAP afterwards.

“But I’m really proud … we’re very aligned as a club.”

Nathan Cleary remains one of the longest-serving players in Penrith’s system, having joined their junior set up in 2012 when his father first began coaching the club.

“It’s pretty amazing. There’s a lot of people doing amazing things behind the scenes for that to happen in the junior ranks,” the younger Cleary said.

Penrith Panthers (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“It’s hard to measure (how far we’ve come), but with the pathway, everyone has a clear vision of what the club’s about and that filters the whole way through. 

“I think people see that and they see a pathway to actually get to first grade. It’s a cool thing for younger guys to strive for.

“When they get into first grade they know what they need to do and know what it means to be a first grader.”

Hooker Soni Luke starred in Penrith’s 29-22 NSW Cup win over Canterbury, while their Flegg team was made to work harder after trailing 18-6 with seven minutes to go.

Penrith scored twice late before Dolphins halfback-in-waiting Isaiya Katoa nailed a field goal in extra-time golden point to win it.

In total, Penrith and their feeder clubs have won 80 per cent of matches across all grades in the past three years, with St Marys also winning the fourth-tier Sydney Shield this year.

Penrith’s NRL players were not initially due to visit CommBank Stadium on Sunday, but made a late call to go after two seasons of lower-grade cancellations through COVID.

“The [NSW] Cup boys especially over the last few years haven’t been playing but they’re always coming to games,” Nathan Cleary said.

“They were very vocal in supporting us all the way and even in our training, some days they’re doing opposed sessions for us at captain’s run. 

“They always put the first-grade team first so we all wanted to come out here and support them.”

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