Position: 4th (Knocked out Finals Week 3)
Record (W-L-D): 15 wins, 9 losses
Top Pointscorer: Jamie Soward 144
Top Tryscorer: Josh Mansour 14
A wonderful year for Penrith where they defied so called ‘rugby league experts’ in finishing fourth on the competition ladder and being one game away from making the Grand Final. It was the first time since 2010 that the Panthers had made the finals series and remarkably only the second time since 2004.
The heavy recruitment in the off-season was a calculated risk. Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace replaced Luke Walsh and Isaac John in the halves from the 2013 campaign. Elijah Taylor and Brent Kite bought representative and big game experience. Tyrone Peachey joined from the Sharks and Jamal Idris was a late off-season recruit after being released by the Titans. The risk appears to have paid off in the short term.
Again the club had to make some difficult decisions regarding player personnel with local junior and much loved Tim Grant on the outer and heading to South Sydney in 2015. Kevin Kingston couldn’t force his way back into the top grade with James Segeyaro in top form. Kevin Naiqama’s future at the club was almost decided after Josh Mansour re-signed.
Penrith shed the tag of being soft this season. Their commitment in each game was well above that shown in the Matt Elliott era and early years of Ivan Cleary’s tenure. Only twice in the year would the Panthers suffer back to back defeats. At the half-way point of the season they were in top spot. This was at a time when the club won five in a row that included an excellent win over Parramatta at SportingBet Stadium 38-12. One of the finest victories in recent years came against Sydney Roosters in week one of the finals where teenage sensation Dallin Watene-Zelezniak kept the ball in play to set up Dean Whare for a try. Jamie Soward’s field goal sealed victory. Watene-Zelezniak, Bryce Cartwright and Isaah Yeo had breakthrough seasons for the club as they look to built their future through junior development. Matt Moylan is quickly becoming a match-winner with several pivotal plays during the year earning him that reputation. Josh Mansour was outstanding in scoring fourteen tries. James Segeyaro took full reign at hooker which coincided with the Panthers mid-season form. Jamie Soward found a club he was happy at and his on-field performances reflected this. Ivan Cleary is set to win coach of the year for getting the best out of the resources he had.
On-field performances were excellent during the season. It’s unfortunate that the crowds didn’t flock to SportingBet Stadium to support the team. This was compounded by the number of outer Sydney teams travelling to the greater west and the scheduling of Monday night fixtures. Peter Wallace, Elijah Taylor, rookie Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey were on the long term casualty list at the back end of the season. This led to former Knight Will Smith being thrown into the top grade for Wallace, a tough initiation with limited success. These key injuries slightly slowed down Penrith at the back end of the season. Penrith had to terminate the contract of James Roberts after re-occurring off-field incidents but this news didn’t affect the side who narrowly went down to Melbourne at AAMI Park just twenty-four hours later.
The Future: 2015
News has surfaced that Russell Packer is set to join Penrith in 2015. The former New Zealand Warrior was jailed after being found guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. If all is true, Packer would still need to be approved by the National Rugby League to be registered. South Sydney’s back up hooker Api Koroisau will likely play understudy to James Segeyaro next season. It’s been a quiet recruitment for Penrith’s 2015 campaign as they focus on retaining young guns Bryce Cartwright (2018) and George Jennings (2016) along with regular first graders in Josh Mansour (2016) and Matt Moylan (2017). Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston, Wes Naiqama and Matt Robinson will move on after this year. With Penrith developing a good spine in Moylan at one, Soward at seven and Segeyaro at nine, the club is certainly on it’s way to breaking through for a premiership in the next few years.