A source of discomfort for Panthers fans at the moment is Bryce Cartwright wearing the 6 jersey instead of gifted youngster Te Maire Martin. ‘Sources’ say he is out of favour, they are making way for Cooper Cronk, a suggestion Phil Gould has rubbished.
Anthony Griffin is repeatedly questioned on the reason for this choice and whether Martin has a place at the club. Most agree that Cartwright isn’t a five-eighth.
The uncomfortable truth for Panthers fans is that Cartwright is possibly the best choice at this point in time.
After a tumultuous start to last season, not unlike the start they have had this year, the Panthers came to a crossroads. Martin was sidelined long-term with injury and Nathan Cleary came into the side for the first time, against Melbourne.
An insipid display by Jamie Soward on that night would be his last game in first grade, Cartwright partnering Cleary in the halves until their exit from the competition in the second week of the finals.
After winning five of their first 13 games, the new combination yielded a return of ten wins from their last 15. While this was not solely due to Cartwright and Cleary, how much value do we place on a strong spine in this competition?
The overall win percentage with the spine of Cartwright, Cleary, Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace is nearly 65 per cent. That must be close to the big three of Melbourne standards.
Craig Bellamy has a win percentage of 67 per cent with Melbourne and is considered among the best coaches in the competition. The Panthers need to win nine of their last 14 to be any chance of playing finals footy, 65 per cent of their remaining games.
Martin hasn’t been poor to start the season, but he hasn’t shone in any games where they have needed him to. The game on Saturday was a must-win and Cartwright stood up.
A lovely short ball for Issah Yeo and kick for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak were plays that any half would be proud of. They were plays that Martin hasn’t made in the clutch moments this season.
It is not the first time Cartwright has had a hand in a big comeback. The Panthers trailed Manly by 20 in Round 14 last year. The circumstances weren’t that far removed from last week against the Warriors.
Cartwright had a kick to Josh Mansour for the try that started the comeback and a short ball for Waqa Blake to score that gave them the go-ahead points.
He is a confidence player. People say he isn’t a five-eighth, but he has the passing game and a surprising short kicking game. He is a big body who draws defenders and can offload. He complements Cleary in attack, taking pressure off the youngster, who can focus on his own style of play.
James Maloney is being talked about as the five-eighth for the NSW Blues. He is a big-game player with good all-round skills, and straightens the attack. As the five-eighth of the premiers, he is a good measure of how good Cartwright is at 6.
Last season Cartwright ranked higher, or equalled Maloney in the categories of try-assists, line-breaks, line-break assists, tackle-breaks, tries and offloads. Maloney had more missed tackles while Cartwright made more errors.
These may be convoluted stats, as Cartwright spent the year in two positions, but these are the measure of any good player and the effect Cartwright had on the team wasn’t blunted with his change of positions.
Bryce Cartwright is a talented footballer wherever he plays. He made a difference on Saturday that Martin would not have. The Panthers need him in the starting 13 and at the moment he fits in best at 6.
It may not sit well with some, and long-term fans can expect to see Martin back, but for now Cartwright has to produce what he did for the Panthers last season if they are a chance of finals football in 2017.