NRL: Penrith coach Ivan Cleary wields axe to save Panthers season against Warriors

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary admits his decision to axe two former Kangaroos was as much about his under-achieving NRL team as their individual form.

Cleary confirmed Reagan Campbell-Gillard would join Josh Mansour in reserve grade on Saturday, as they desperately search for confidence.

They were part of four changes made by Cleary for Friday's round-10 clash with the NZ Warriors, after last week's Magic Round horror show.

The lopsided defeat left the pre-season title contenders second last and aiming to avoid a sixth straight defeat for the first time in almost two decades.

Youngster Caleb Aekins was also dropped to Canterbury Cup, while hooker Wayde Egan is facing a couple of weeks out with a shoulder issue.

But the surprise culling of Campbell-Gillard and Mansour from the first-choice 17 would have sent shock waves through their squad.

Asked whether their omissions were more of a statement for the team than the pair's current form, Cleary said: "It's usually both.

"Sometimes, it's the balance of the team. We're not playing well enough, we haven't been playing well enough over a bunch of weeks really.

"We've had a couple of decent performances, but the last two in particular haven't been good enough. I thought changes were necessary."

It is a stunning fall from grace for Campbell-Gillard, who this time last year was two weeks from being named for his State of Origin debut for NSW.

Mansour also pulled on the green-and-gold less than two years ago.

"I certainly don't do it lightly," Cleary said. "I also prefer not to talk about it individually, but clearly I felt the need to make some changes.

NRL: Penrith coach Ivan Cleary wields axe to save Panthers season against Warriors

Both players suffered major injuries last year, with the front-rower twice breaking his jaw and the winger sustaining facial fractures.

Cleary was blunt, when asked whether the injuries had affected their form.

"You'd have to ask those guys," he said.

Both players were signed to long-term deals as part of a mammoth spending spree last season, with Campbell-Gillard handed an extra five-year term.

Mansour is tied up for another three years, but Cleary declined to put a time-frame on their return to first grade.

"They're obviously good players," Cleary said. "That's not going to change, but there's no timeline on it." 

Brian To'o will make his NRL debut on the wing, Liam Martin returns from suspension, while Dylan Edwards and Sione Katoa have been recalled.

They take on a Warriors side unchanged from their last-start win over St George Illawarra, with veterans Issac Luke and Adam Blair on an extended bench.


Join us for live updates of Warriors v Panthers from 8pm Friday