Ask Penrith coach Matt Elliott and skipper Petero Civoniceva who they have high hopes for in 2011 and they will tell you Sam McKendry. “Man, he was unbelievable the other night [in our trial],” said Elliott, who last season watched Sam McKendry go from a fringe first-grader to Kiwi international. “At the beginning of last year I thought Sam was going to be a first-grader, we might get 10 games out of him, but he played every game and turned himself into an international.
“Our two young props, him and Tim Grant, are highly impressive players, they’re good people, they’ll drive the squad along and I think they will be a handful.” A little over 12 months ago McKendry was told he was too big, would struggle to succeed in the NRL if he failed to shed the kilos. Elliott said with the help of trainer Carl Jennings, McKendry turned himself into a vital prop who would play a major role in the Penrith Panthers premiership campaign. As he joined rival coaches Tim Sheens and Stephen Kearney yesterday for the Battle of the West membership competition, Elliott said:

* Trent Waterhouse (pectoral muscle) and Lachan Coote (groin) were still no certainties to take part in the final hitout against the Eels;

* David Simmons had trained the house down and loomed as a fullback option, along with Michael Gordon, in Coote’s absence; and

* Travis Burns had no intent in the weekend tackle on Newcastle’s Shannon McDonnell, which led to a grade-two charge and likely to force him to miss the Parramatta trial. Elliott rated Simmons as a standout but reserved his biggest praise for 21-year-old McKendry.