Jennings better than ever: Elliott - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Jennings better than ever: Elliott

By Steve Jancetic 24/06/2010 06:50:56 PM Comments (0)

Penrith coach Matthew Elliott says he can't understand Michael Jennings' continued snubbing by NSW selectors, claiming the Panthers flyer is playing better now than when he earned debut Origin and Australian jerseys less than 12 months ago.

Jennings' omission from the opening two games of the State of Origin series has become a focal point for critics calling for sweeping changes to the NSW set-up, and on Thursday Elliott added his voice to the cause despite being a proud Queenslander.

"From a club coach's perspective I think he's playing at a higher level this year than he was last year, for sure," Elliott said.

"I think the team's form is better so maybe he's not standing out quite as much ... Jeno just hasn't had the same level of opportunity.

"People say that they want to see him run 100 metres to score tries but I still think his strike rate is pretty handy.

"Over the last month he's thrown three try-assists, scored a hat-trick and I think his defensive game in the last match he forced three or four errors."

Indeed it is Jennings' perceived defensive frailties that are believed to be behind his Origin snubbing, with selectors fearful of his ability to shut down Queensland giants Greg Inglis and Israel Folau.

But it was Jennings' ability to stop Folau which prompted Elliott to switch him from right centre - where he had been playing all season - to left centre against Brisbane last week so that Jennings could mark up against the Broncos sensation.

"I thought his speed, and I think it proved to be correct, would help us handle Folau," Elliott said.

"I don't understand the comments on his defensive game, but in saying that, people used to question Darren Lockyer's defence.

"What Darren Lockyer does is ask so many questions of you when he's got the ball in his hands - I think Michael Jennings in a different way does that, he puts pressure on oppositions.

"As a Queenslander I've sort of got mixed emotions for him - I just think there's some limited thinking that's gone into that because I really didn't see too many players with ball in hand in the NSW side that were a threat.

"You've got Jarryd Hayne and then who else is going to pick the ball up and crack the line?"

Jennings' switch to the left - where he played last year - also allows him to team up with Frank Pritchard in what shapes as a monumental headache for a Manly right-side defence missing injured skipper Jamie Lyon.

Adding to Manly's pain is the return of Penrith skipper Petero Civoniceva, Elliott glad to have the veteran prop return early from a broken hand despite the fact he was now forced to make a hard decision in trimming three players from his squad.

"Obviously Pet's individual performance and his influence on the team is probably as significant as anyone else's in the game," Elliott said.

Civoniceva will play with a specially designed guard over his right hand, with Elliott to wait until late Friday to announce his final 17, though it is expected Nathan Smith, Travis Burns and Frank Puletua will be the three to make way.

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