The Kamikaze kid: How Kenny and Api plan to unsettle Eels

From a pint-sized lock who was told he was too small to a starting hooker ready to help the Panthers in their bid for back-to-back Premierships.

By Kelsey Hogan & Alicia Newton

MITCH Kenny’s rise to Penrith’s top 17 has been three years in the making after he was left out of the club’s past two Grand Final appearances.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has opted to start Kenny over Fijian international Api Koroisau in recent weeks — a trend that’s likely to continue against the Eels in Sunday’s decider after a number of strong performances.

“When I have started, part of the reason has been for that physical challenge at the start,” Kenny told

“It’s been good, another opportunity, the role is a little bit different, but my mentality and the way I play the game doesn’t change too much.

“If anything I’ll probably just exhaust myself, go a little bit harder because I know the rest is coming.”

It’s been a fair journey for the 24-year-old Penrith junior, who conceded in 2020 that he was a “headless chook” coming through the club’s system.

“I didn’t know how to play hooker to save my life really, so that was cool just having a year to train under my belt,” he said.

“Last year I had a fair bit of footy, I played about 18 games. A lot of that wasn’t playing hooker, but I still got another year of training, and then this year has been bits and pieces.

“It’s always a work in progress and the work doesn’t stop, but it’s definitely been nice to have Api (Koroisau) in front of me.”

Departing Panther Koroisau said he is happy to revert back to the bench, admitting being injected into a game with tired defence has worked in his favour.

The rotation paid dividends in Saturday night’s Preliminary Final when the veteran number nine split the Rabbitohs’ defence to score in the 35th minute of the match, turning the tide after South Sydney’s strong start to the game.

“I get to watch what’s happening on the field and pull some adjustments when I do get on there,” Koroisau told

“There’s fatigue in the defence by the time I get out there and there’s a lot of advantages in watching those first few minutes.

“The start of the game is very hectic and with Mitch Kenny out there to take that workload on is pretty good.

“I call Kenny ‘Kamikaze’, you just let him go.”

For Kenny, not only has Koroisau inspired his form as a hooker, but also motivated him to continue his development as a player and persist for a spot in the top 17. 

“Heavy bias here, but I think he (Koroisau) is the best in the comp, and being able to see the way that, even in the latter stages of his career, he has been able to get better each year at this club,” Kenny said.

It’s really motivating because it shows that if you don’t stop learning, you can always keep getting better.
Mitch Kenny on teammate Apisai Koroisau

“He’s been able to take his game, which was already elite, to new levels, and show a couple of us younger guys what he’s been trying to do each week along the way.

“I’m definitely very lucky to have him around the club and to have learned a bit of my craft from him.”