An end-of-the-season stint with the Penrith Panthers sees Tevita Pangai Junior involved in another finals series, a situation he’s all too familiar with after almost five years at the Brisbane Broncos.
Having made his debut with the Brisbane Broncos in 2016, Pangai Junior is no stranger to post-season appearances, featuring in four finals across five full seasons at the club.
Playing as a second rower, he was named on the bench in the Broncos’ qualifying and semi-finals in 2016 and entered the game on both occasions. In 2017, he wasn’t part of the team for their qualifying and semi-finals but made an appearance in the club’s preliminary final, again coming in off the bench.
In 2018, Pangai Junior was elevated to the starting lineup for the Broncos’ qualifying final and played 77 minutes of gametime. He didn’t make an appearance in the side’s 2019 qualifying final squad.
Pangai Junior had been a part of Brisbane’s 2021 squad however, he was granted an immediate release after uncertainty regarding his short and long-term future. He was later told by Brisbane’s management that he was free to leave the club, following an announcement he’d signed a three-year deal with the Canterbury-Bankston Bulldogs.
The Tongan international, upon being let go by Brisbane, was picked up by Penrith to assist the club with its run home to the finals as prop James Fisher-Harris would become unavailable heading into to the last month of the regular season.
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Already this season, in four games, Pangai Junior has scored two tries – each in wins against the Wests Tigers and the Parramatta Eels -, had nine tackle breaks and when on defence, has stuck 66 of 69 tackles.
His 100th NRL game was celebrated – although not in a victorious way – in Penrith’s 10-16 first-week qualifying final loss to South Sydney last weekend. Pangai Junior says that the feeling from the loss was painful but that the focus is now on the next game, a semi-final against Parramatta.
“I’m in a Panthers jersey so of course I took it hard,” Pangai Junior told media at a press conference on Tuesday.
“It was a bit of a shock but y’know, we worked so hard to, the boys worked so hard to get into the top four and that’s why you try and make the top four to get a second chance in case things don’t go to plan.”
The 25-year-old says he’s been welcomed into the Panthers with open arms and points towards a team who embraced him from the beginning, despite joining late in the season.
“The finals, it’s a different type of footy so the boys have been good,” he mentioned.
“[I] grew up playing with a lot of them in the junior rep[resentative] teams and playing against them so they’ve welcomed me with open arms.”
In the short window that has had, and continues to have in Penrith, the prop said it’s important to maintain a level of belief and confidence, both in himself and within the team to put last week’s result behind them and focus on the next fixture.
“It’s just important that I do everything I can to put my best foot forward for the team and on the weekend,” he stated.
“We’ve still got to win two games to get to the grand final so we’ll take it a day at a time and week by week.”
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