Exciting times for the Mountain men as they head into 2017 with higher hopes for a premiership in quite some time. Can they do it?
Last season placing
League: 6th – Knocked out Second week of finals.
Penrith ended 2016 on a real high, playing some great rugby league and exciting their fans and some neutrals. Although the finals run ended prematurely at the hands of Canberra they always looked more likely to seriously challenge in 2017, and it looks highly likely that they will.
A strong squad has been further strengthened in the off season with James Tamou arriving from North Queensland, ex Dragon Mitch Rein providing quality coverage at hooker, and Tim Browne from the Bulldogs. Other signings will likely be fringe players, but are still high quality with Jed Cartwright (cousin of Bryce) who performed quite well in Auckland, Michael Oldfield from Souths and Darren Nicholls from Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup who was outstanding for them in 2016 and provides real depth in the halves. That is in addition to an outstanding Under 20 squad from 2016 who were beaten Grand Finalists, and will be pushing for NRL berths.
The Panthers will be hoping their star players Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour continue their great progress after they seemed to grow a leg after playing for NSW in Origin last year. Josh Mansour was the best winger in the game by season’s end, but is coming back from a nasty injury.
The Panthers have returned to a jersey design that is a homage to the colours that took them to their first title in 1991 against Canberra. Will it be an omen and deliver them a third NRL crown?
Bryce Cartwright: Cartwright could not only be Penrith’s best this year, but he could go close to the best player in the entire competition. With Te Maire Martin due to start the season at five eighth, Cartwright will be in the position where he will create the most havoc in the second row. Similar to John Sutton at Souths where he is a very capable half, but an even better fringe dweller. Surely he will get a taste of State of Origin if the Blues want to break the recent Maroons dominance.
Nathan Cleary: the Penrith halfback was a revelation after being called up to the top grade part way through 2016 and looked right at home in his first season. Now comes the dreaded Second Season Syndrome. Many players have standout first seasons in the NRL, but not as many follow it up the second year. Which way Nathan Cleary goes will probably determine how the Panthers go in 2017. Given they are my tip for the title, I say no problems for Penrith halfback. The Nines form showed no significant drop off is likely.
Given Penrith one of Penrith’s very few missing pieces was a top line Prop, the arrival of James Tamou couldn’t be better timed. A premiership winner with the Cowboys, and NSW/Australia representative, he brings a huge amount of experience to an already very good forward pack. Some may question whether he is at his peak after a less successful 2016 which saw him dropped from the third State of Origin team, but his showing at the Nines is a good sign for the Panthers that he is ready to lead them to the title.
Story of 2017
I offered up Penrith as my Premiership tip some time ago, and the more you look into them and watch them, the more there is to like.
Penrith look an exciting prospect in 2017 and with great signings already joining a great first team, and strong squad all the pieces look like they are fitting for 2017 for a taste of glory. A top 4 finish looks likely, with possibly their youth that may go against them for a minor premiership. But then again with the experience they have recruited it is not beyond them.
Hopefully they keep playing the great football we saw at the end of 2016. A refreshing change from some of the more regular rugby league on offer from the top sides. A battle looks likely with the early 90’s nemesis Canberra for glory.
If it doesn’t happen this year, the way they are building at the club a premiership doesn’t look too far away.
Top try scorer: Matt Moylan
Top points scorer: Nathan Cleary
Player of the Year: Bryce Cartwright