The Penrith Panthers are proving they can cope without Nathan Cleary after moving back to the top of the NRL ladder following a 28-20 win over the Newcastle Knights on Saturday.
The Panthers are priced at 16/5 to defend their title and win the 2022 NRL grand final and they have got the season off to a great start even without their star halfback in the side.
Izack Tago picked up the man-of-the-match award after grabbing a brace of tries and the player says the performance shows the strength in depth they have.
Cleary will soon return to the side following injury but the Panthers have won three from three without him.
"We're backing everyone that's in the jersey right now," Tago told reporters after the game. "Sean O'Sullivan has come in and done a really good job for us in the seven jersey. The young guns are really stepping up. It's good to have them."
The Panthers won the game against a Newcastle side that were reduced to 10 men following the sending off of Knights second-rower Mitch Barnett.
Barnett was given his marching orders for an off-the-ball elbow to the head of Penrith forward Chris Smith who failed his HIA and could play no further part.
The Panthers will wait to discover the full extent of the damage but coach Ivan Cleary was concerned.
"Once I saw what happened, and he was holding his jaw. I was very worried," Cleary said. "From what I've seen of Mitch Barnett, it was out of character. I don't know what happened there."
Barnett could now be looking at a lengthy spell on the sidelines but Penrith ace Jarome Luai had no sympathy.
"Well deserved," Luai said. "We have to get it out of game. I wasn't sure if it was intentional or not."