Last season placing: 4th
The Panthers young guns provided much more ammunition than expected in 2014, but what should worry the rest of the NRL is that these guys may just be beginning to scratch the surface. Capitalising on a successful youth side and some intelligent recruitment, the Panthers have pieced together an array of young attacking weapons like Matt Moylan, Dean Whare, Josh Mansour, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, James Segeyaro who are all just in their early twenties, or late teens in the case of DWZ. They’re perfectly complemented by two experienced, crafty generals in Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward. They didn’t make waves in the singing department, but Apisai Koroisau and Tupou Sopoaga are both dynamic young players who may raise some eyebrows. After injury plagued 2014 campaigns Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey will return as one of the most exciting, young backrow pairings in the game, and saddled between them will be another young gun whose 2014 was ripped away in the workhorse Elijah Taylor. The Panthers were forced to blood plenty of talent last year due to their extensive injury list, which may prove a blessing in disguise for 2015 as Coach Ivan Cleary is tasked with the enviable problem of selecting his sides from depth all over the paddock. The Panthers got an early taste of what it’s like to be a successful side in the NRL last year, something they won’t easily let slip from their teeth again.
Key Players: The emphatic resurgence of Jamie Soward in 2014 was key on the primary catalysts for the Panthers success, and the former Dragons castaway will again be pivotal in the Panthers success this year. The former Origin half was in career best form just a year after finding himself in the Super League. Talent in the halves is one of the blueprints for success in today’s NRL, and in Soward the Panthers have a skilled booted navigating them around the park, a deceptive attacking threat with the ball in hand, and a plucky, confident attitude that inspires and personifies the rest of his side.
Drawbacks: The young Panthers defied the odds week after week in a Cinderella type season, constantly denying the critics while their casualty list mounted by the game. The Panthers roared out of the gate early with many citing their weak record as the reason, that it was just a matter of time before they slipped back down, but the Panthers refused to relinquish their spot. This time around there’s added pressure, added expectation. No longer are they the feel good story that everyone was happy for, now they’re viewed as a top four threat that demands opponents be on top of their game. That’s a big change from the more forgiving expectations the Panthers kids played under last year.
Story of 2015: The continued evolution of the young Panthers side. In 2014, we saw the likes of Moylan, Mansour, Whare, Segeyaro, thrust themselves into the discussion of the elite in the NRL at their respective positions. The question now is whether they can solidify themselves in that argument as the target on their heads increasingly grows, and who else from the stable of young Panthers stalwarts will take their game to the next level. With such an abundance of talent at their disposal, both with NRL experience and without, it seems likely that one or two more diamonds will starting glistening this year.
Ladder: Make the top 8.
Top Tryscorer: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Top Pointscorer: Jamie Soward
Player of the Year: James Segeyaro