INJURIES have hampered the Monaro Panthers' Canberra Premier League preparation, and this was evidenced by a 6-0 thumping to the Cooma Tigers in their final Pre-Season Cup match last Saturday.
Four key players in Josh Calabria, Sam La Vella, Daniel Linstead and Nicholas Popovich are in the casualty ward at the moment, forcing head coach Njegosh Popovich to bring young players straight into the Premier League side.
Linstead injured his hand a fortnight ago playing Canberra Olympic, with scans this week to have revealed how ling he will be sidelined.
It is hoped La Vella and Calabria will be back for the round four clash at home against Cooma after the Easter break, while Popovich's return from pubis osteitis is still indefinite.
"It was very tough going for them against Cooma that has a number of quality indiviuals," said assistant coach Martin Lategui.
Lategui is in his first season under the wing of Njegosh Popovich, after he was dumped by Tuggeranong United last year despite leading them to the Federation Cup final as head coach.
Having experienced a similar culture of raising young players at Tuggeranong, he has immediately been injected into a similar environment at the Panthers, and he said the injuries of core players would force the selection of youth.
"We've got to go with some of the young guys we had last year playing in the under 20's and under 18's," he said.
"They've got a little bit of experience in the Premier League and they've played in the Pre-Season Cup this year...but it does make a difference when you lose someone like Josh [Calabria] who plays in a pretty pivotal position in the centre and mid-field...but you do what you can."
Lategui said his young players played well in the Pre-Season Cup, and would improve with experience as the Premier League progresses.
Their round one opponents in Canberra City fared well in the Pre-Season Cup, losing just once to Belconnen United, and will prove tough opposition for the Panthers.
Meanwhile, Lategui has expressed his disappointment in being let go by Tuggeranong, but said the Panthers have slot him in to their own program smoothly.
"There's always plenty of opportunity out there for coaches, and I'm more than happy to be with Monaro," he said.