It was a case of injury-prone Penrith Panthers in 2015 which saw the club drop from a position to make the Grand Final, to eleventh after surviving the wooden spoon on the last Saturday of the season.
Ivan Cleary has departed and Anthony Griffin has a full pre-season to work with the Penrith Panthers squad. Griffin has inherited some talent arriving at the club for 2016. Here are the top three:
- Ben Garcia
Position: Hooker/Second Row
Previous Club: Catalans Dragons
Ben Garcia is no stranger to playing in Australia after spending some time in the Broncos feeder system with Wynnum-Manly Seagulls. Dubbed by Catalans coach Laurent Frayssinous as ‘one of the best French players of his generation’, Garcia has represented his nation on six occasions and has forty-two Super League appearances under his belt at age twenty-two.
He is built tough, good ball runner and solid in defense. Garcia has a two year contract and with Penrith’s unlucky casualty ward over the past two years, it’s likely he will get a run at some stage during the season.
- Te Maire Martin
Previous Club: Wests Tigers
Wests Tigers have let slip talented prospect Te Maire Martin to their western Sydney rivals on a three year deal. Martin was the Holden Cup five-eighth of the year in 2014. He isn’t afraid to take on his opponents line and possesses a neat passing game. This was shown in an outstanding display for the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos on the Gold Coast in May.
There’s no doubt Martin is ready for the top grade after serving his apprenticeship in the lower grades over the last few seasons. It’s a matter of time before Anthony Griffin taps Jamie Soward or Peter Wallace on the shoulder and unleashes the young gun. I predict this will happen sometime early in the season just like Griffin’s calculated gamble with a young Ben Hunt.
If he breaks through to the top grade, Te Maire Martin just might be the buy of the year.
Trent Merrin joins Penrith with plenty of expectations after signing a lucrative contract back in March. There’s already talk out west that he could end up as captain with Peter Wallace in the final year of his contract.
Merrin had to work hard to regain his spot in the Dragons side at the start of 2015 after being benched by Paul McGregor. A regular in the New South Wales squad since 2015, he made his test debut in May for the Kangaroos in their embarrassing loss to the Kiwis at Suncorp Stadium. He led the Prime Ministers XIII to victory over PNG in October.
What we might see is the return of the offload in Merrin’s game, something that disappeared over the last few years with his former club. That could be ominous for Panther opponents with highly talented Bryce Cartwright also possessing a dangerous offload.
Merrin will also be keen to become an eighty minute player under Anthony Griffin. Griffin to decide in the off-season how best to fit Merrin into his plans but it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays in the front row along side Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
2015 PENRITH PANTHERS GAINS AND LOSSES
Gains: Sitaleki Akauola (Wests Tigers, 2016), Zach Dockar-Clay (Parramatta Eels, 2017), Benjamin Garcia (Catalan Dragons, 2017), Josh Hall (2017), Andrew Heffernan (Canberra Raiders, 2017), Viliame Kikau (North Queensland Cowboys, 2017), Te Maire Martin (Wests Tigers, 2018), Suaia Matagi (Mid Season: New Zealand Warriors, 2017), Trent Merrin (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2018)
Losses: Lewis Brown (Manly Sea Eagles), Adam Docker (retired), Jamal Idris (released), Isaac John (Manly Sea Eagles), Brent Kite (retired), Apisai Koroisau (Manly Sea Eagles), Sika Manu (Hull FC), Kieren Moss (Parramatta Eels), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Salford Red Devils), Nigel Plum (retired), David Simmons (retired), Shaun Spence (retired)