Last Season Placing: 11th position

 

A lot of promise

After a horror year of injuries that left the toll of 2014 for dead, the Penrith Panthers were lucky to scrape 11th position overall at the conclusion of the 2015 season – a far cry from their inspiring top four finish the season before. Losses to the team include veterans Brent Kite and fan favourite Nigel Plum to retirement, and workhorse utility Lewis Brown, Apisai Koroisau and Isaac John to Manly. Perhaps the loss that will be of the biggest influence for the coming season is the shock departure of their coach, Ivan Cleary.

With former Broncos head coach Anthony Griffin at the helm, there is a certain uncertainty about how the roster and gameplay will change. As has been clear for a few years, if Penrith can stay fit, healthy and positive, their limitations are very few.

 

Key Players

Matt Moylan: The new captain, Moylan has much to prove this year, having been awarded the honours over experienced halves in Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace. A born and bred local with only two full seasons in the NRL behind him, his natural talent is undeniable. Comparisons to Darren Lockyer don’t come easy, and yet they have been thrown Moylan’s way for as long as he has played in the top grade. His fitness will be an issue, with his fitness in the opening rounds of the season already on shaky ground, and missing round one a certainty.

Jamie Soward: As one of the most polarising figures in the NRL, Soward is no stranger to criticism, both justified and otherwise. Having struggled with his fitness in the last season, Penrith’s success depends on Soward’s ability to hit form reminiscent of 2014 when Panthers had been all but written off for the season. If Jamie’s kicking game is looking good, so are the chances of Penrith posting plenty of points.

Trent Merrin: Merrin brings talent, confidence and Origin representative honours to the squad. Perhaps his most valuable quality is in his age – he has both experience and youth, and looks to be in the prime of his playing career. Merrin’s influence on the younger element of the Panther’s squad could prove a winning formula.

 

Likely Round 1 line-up:

Will Smith 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Peta Hiku 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Jamie Soward 7. Peter Wallace 8. Sam McKendry 9. James Segeyaro 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Bryce Cartwright 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Jeremy Latimore 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Elijah Taylor.

 

Story of 2016:

With Phil Gould’s five-year plan due to bear results, there will be plenty scrutinising the performance that Penrith put on, and much to be made of how young captain Moylan leads his team of rookies and misfits.

 

Predictions

Ladder: Low end of the top 8

Predicted Top Tryscorer: Peta Hiku

Predicted Top Pointscorer: Matt Moylan

Predicted Player of the Year: Matt Moylan