Luke Johnson return would boost Panthers
LUKE JOHNSON was the last Panther to leave the training track yesterday afternoon as he pushes his chances for a Rockhampton Rugby League debut.
Johnson broke his foot in the opening eight minutes of his Biloela Nines clash with Emu Park in February, an injury originally slated for a possible four month lay-off but the 23-year-old is well within the selection frame.
Sunday's match against top-placed Seagulls would be just three days shy of 14 weeks since the former Newcastle first-grader was placed in a cast.
Johnson's return would be a major boost for the Biloela halves that have lacked depth in recent weeks.
While the final decision will be up to captain-coach Peter Rogers, Johnson was confident he was back to full-strength.
"I could have come back against Emu Park but I decided to rest it a couple of more weeks," he said.
"I can't wait to line up in the Rocky competition; it will be a good test."
The Panthers enter the game on the back two impressive wins including a road victory over Emu Park.
Rogers admitted defence proved vital in their opening rounds, and he praised the character shown by his troops.
"We are strong everywhere. We have good outside backs who are good finishers and a very mobile forward pack," Rogers said.
"Our edge back rowers have proving strong in attack and defence, getting us to where we are."
After losing eight of their 2014 starting line-up, the Panthers have thrown caution to the wind and blooded new players.
"We've lost a fair bit of experience but we have replaced that with some good youth," Rogers said.
"Our more experienced men have instilled that sense of camaraderie to help keep a good culture at the club."
Rogers was quietly confident his side could knock off the defending champions, with plans to contain hooker Dean Blackman early.
"If we lose it will be due to our own mistakes, we certainly have the potential to match them," he said.
"We've had to tighten up our ruck defence this week with a predominate focus on stopping Blackman."
For the Panthers this weekend's clash represents an opportunity to race clear at the top of the ladder with the soaring Seagulls.
"We started really strong last year but fizzled out against Norths in the first round of finals," Rogers said.
"Our biggest aim for this season is to remain consistent, keep our heads held high and prove we are deserving of a premiership win."
Kick off Sunday afternoon in Biloela is at 3pm.