It’s not the combination Panthers fans expected to see in 2023 but young guns Izack Tago and Sunia Turuva are fast making a name for themselves as a lethal left edge pairing.
Since a devastating ACL injury to teammate Taylan May handed 20-year-old Turuva an opportunity on the left-edge, the young pair have combined superbly with five tries and seven line breaks between them in five games.
Fijian representative Turuva said the fact he had played outside Tago in his junior years has helped him make a seamless transition into Ivan Cleary’s premiership-winning backline.
“We’ve played with each other since we were young so there is already a bit of a connection there with him,” Turuva told NRL.com.
“Off the back of the World Cup, I did come into the pre-season with a lot of confidence and it gives me a lot of confidence seeing the coaching staff, Ivan, Nathan (Cleary), Dylan (Edwards) and the faith they have in me.
“Building connections there with Jarome (Luai) and Izack, they tell me every game that they’re backing me and I tell them I back them every day.”
Making his first-grade opportunity bittersweet is the fact it came off the back of a close friend’s season-ending injury, but Turuva is determined to do May proud in 2023.
“Taylan killed the pre-season and was training really well and then had a really unfortunate injury,” he said.
“For myself, I just knew I had to do what I do best… play my part for the team, nothing too fancy, just play my role.
“We still see him around the academy and working hard. Now I just feel like I can never take this opportunity for granted.”
No less crucial has been the stability 21-year-old Tago has provided to the left edge after a Kikau-sized hole was left to be filled during the off-season.
Tago is relishing the chance to work with experienced back-rower Scott Sorensen and the flying Turuva, the trio winding back the clock to their days playing NSW Cup together in 2021.
“I played with a lot of those combinations I have this year in (NSW) Cup so that made it a bit easier to transition,” Tago told NRl.com.
“Tito’ (Turuva) was in my team coming through the grades ever since I was about 12. He’s great, he’s a real vocal player and he helps me out a lot.
“He’s very athletic and he brings heaps of energy. I’d probably say that’s the biggest thing about him.
“I played with Scotty in Cup as well, he was my back-rower when I was centre so I was happy for him to come back in because I already had that combo with him.
“I feel like my confidence as a player has always been pretty good considering the talented players I’m around but in terms of experience, the season I had last year has definitely helped with the new combinations.”
Coming off a big win over the Sea Eagles in Round 6, Penrith will look to carry that momentum into a clash with a Knights outfit boasting plenty of firepower of its own out wide.
“Dom Young has been killing it, every time I’ve played against him he’s always been solid so it’s going to be a good challenge this week,” Tago said.
“He really turned one on when we played them in the World Cup and showed what he’s about.
“We can’t really give them too much space or time or I think they’ll make us pay for it.”