This weekend represents Penrith’s first major test for the year as they head to Auckland for the inaugural Nines tournament.
I must admit I was surprised to find out the Panthers were in the second line of betting for a few reasons. Penrith traditionally haven’t fared well at the short-form of the game with Manly, Newcastle and Parramatta amongst the strongest at the now-defunct Sevens tournament level. There’s also a train of thought that while a Nines tournament win would be a boost for the club, the eye is on the real prize that will be played out this September.
Here’s the squad that was announced on Tuesday:
Matt Moylan, Wes Naiqama, Josh Mansour, Isaac John, Kevin Naiqama, Jamie Soward, Jeremy Latimore, Sam McKendry, Kevin Kingston, Tyrone Peachey, Lewis Brown, Adam Docker, Regan Campbell-Gillard, Eto Nabuli, George Jennings, Isaiah Yeo
James Roberts would have been a ‘cert’ had it not been for a broken ankle that will see the flyer out for six months.
When you look at team composition it doesn’t read too bad on paper. Matt Moylan, Isaac John, Jamie Soward and Tyrone Peachey can and will get plenty of time with the ball. Moylan has that ‘touch football’ feeling about him and isn’t afraid to get involved in attack. Isaac John showed some magic last season especially against his old club when Penrith almost broke the winning margin record. Tyrone Peachey is seen as a future star of the game and can play both five-eighth and lock. He’s already won accolades in Toyota Cup (2011) and NSW Cup (2013) being named as lock of the year. And then you have Jamie Soward where his kicking game will be pivotal to give the likes of Moylan, the Naiqama brothers and Josh Mansour scoring chances.
The most exciting selection from last year’s Toyota Cup Premiership squad has to be George Jennings. George is going to be as good or even better than his brother Michael. He won’t be alone as Toyota Cup graduates to play at the Nines. Prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and centre Isaiah Yeo get a chance to make a name for themselves on the big stage.
I predict the Panthers best at the tournament will be the flying Fijian Eto Nabuli. Plucked from obscurity by Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler in late 2012, Nabuli has become a sensation overnight after a great season playing second-tier NSW Cup with Windsor Wolves. Last season he scored thirty tries in twenty-six games. Strength and speed is what this game is all about. This makes Nabuli a threat for any type of opponent. He should be our leading scorer at the tournament.
Penrith are part of a tricky group. It was always expected that Melbourne would ‘rest’ their gun players. South Sydney have some pace out wide including new recruit Lote Tiqiri. The Dragons seem the biggest threat in the group with Josh Dugan, Brett Morris and Dylan Farrell leading their attacking weaponry.
Here’s our draw (Syd/Bris time)
Saturday February 15
Game 7. Storm v Panthers – 1.15pm Syd/12.15pm Bri Game 16. Panthers v Dragons – 5:25pm Syd/4:25pm Bri
Sunday February 16
Game 24. Panthers v Rabbitohs – 1pm Syd/12pm Bri