From Panther pest to star performer

Rising Penrith forward Liam Martin has emerged has one of the stories of the 2020 NRL season, but his teammates weren’t convinced that he would succeed at the start of the year.

Martin has excelled for the table-topping Panthers this season, scoring five tries and amassing 26 tackle breaks in his 16 games thus far.

The Temora-born back-rower is set to play a crucial role in Penrith’s premiership tilt, but teammate Api Koroisau wasn’t sure if he possessed the ability and mental drive to thrive at the highest level.

“When I first came here this pre-season, I was pretty taken back by how much of a smart alec he was,” Koroisau said.

“He is a nuisance and a proper pest.

“He and Brent Naden, they just don’t stop, so I wasn’t sure how his footy was going to be or what kind of leadership or experience he was going to bring to the table.”

Penrith’s Liam Martin takes a kick to score a try during the Penrith v Parramatta NRL match at Panthers Stadium, Penrith. Picture: Brett CostelloSource:News Corp Australia

Flash forward 17 rounds and Koroisau couldn’t be more impressed with Martin’s emergence as a consistent first-grader.

He was particularly impressed with the forward’s freakish leap and grab to score during last weekend’s win over Parramatta.

“I love him now – I honestly do,” he said.

“He is one of the most energetic people to have around and to see him playing such good footy is awesome.

“He is one of those guys who will do anything for the team, and he is always going to be there right behind you.

“To see what he is producing, I’m impressed, and I hope he keeps it up for the rest of the season.

“I’m sure he will.”

Penrith may be flying, but critics have questioned their lack of proven big game experience compared to the Roosters or Melbourne.

But Koroisau isn’t concerned, comparing the current crop of Panthers to his 2014 South Sydney side that won the premiership.

“The similarity for me is the young guys playing so well,” he said.

“In that 2014 (Souths) team we had five or six 21-year old’s who were playing great footy and lifting the bar in standard.

“I don’t know how many players in that Souths team had been to a grand final and won one.

“The youth brings a lot of energy and we have some big-name players with Nathan (Cleary) and Jimmy Tamou.

“If we can just continue to keep the focus on us and don’t worry about that outside noise that we don’t have the experience.”

Koroisau believes the Panthers are perfectly placed for a shot at the premiership.

Asked what the team’s biggest challenge will be in the weeks ahead, he was straight to the point.

“Ourselves,” he said frankly.

“We have proved that we can play and do everything on the field, so it will be between the ears from here on in.”

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