Penrith dominated the regular season, but lost the game that mattered most.
2020 Club Record
Competition Points: 37
2020 Player Achievements
Most Tries: Stephen Crichton (17)
Most Points: Nathan Cleary (208)
The Panthers got their season off to the perfect start, defeating defending premiers the Roosters, and then the Dragons, before the forced shutdown due to COVID-19. The first three matches following the break were a little shaky with a draw, a win and a loss to the Eels. That defeat would be the only blemish on the Panthers’ record however, as they would go on to win 17 straight en-route to a minor premiership and grand final berth.
Some of the highlights included a 21-14 victory over the Storm in round six, which kickstarted the streak, a 56-24 thrashing of the Sharks in round nine (which included four tries on debut for Charlie Staines), and a dominant 42-12 win over Sea Eagles in round 12. The Panthers rarely looked in trouble as they continued to amass win after win.
They were able to secure a thrilling 29-28 win over the Roosters in the first week of finals, before defeating the Rabbitohs in the preliminary final thanks to a late try by Dylan Edwards that will be remembered by Panthers fans for a long time. Unfortunately, Penrith were unable to get the win when it really mattered: a late comeback was not enough as they went down 26-20 to the Storm in the grand final.
Despite the disappointing finish to the season, it still largely be seen as a success for the Panthers. Most punters and analysts were tipping them to miss finals altogether, and even after entering finals on the back of 15 straight wins, there were still many doubters. They proved them wrong to get to the big dance but were beaten by a strong Storm outfit on grand final day.
The Panthers had five players named in the Dally M Team of the Year, including Nathan Cleary, Stephen Crichton, Isaah Yeo, James Fisher-Harris, and Viliame Kikau, with Ivan Cleary also winning Coach of the Year. Yeo and Fisher-Harris have always been well known to Panthers fans as brilliant workhorses, but they established themselves as two of the top forwards in the competition in 2020, while Crichton enjoyed a standout rookie season. Jarome Luai also proved incredibly important: his combination with Cleary in the halves was always dangerous, while Apisai Koroisau was arguably the buy of the season, with his inclusion at dummy half proving crucial to the team’s run to the grand final.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
There were many standout performances right across the board for the Panthers, but there were none better than the young halfback. Following the departure of James Maloney, many expected Cleary to struggle in 2020, but the extra responsibility proved to be exactly what he needed. He led his side around the park expertly, and he helped the Panthers win on more than one occasion just on his kicking game alone. He was unlucky not to win the Dally M award, but there won’t be many doubters left following a superb season.
2021 GAINS AND LOSSES
Matt Eisenhuth (Wests Tigers, 2022), Robert Jennings (Wests Tigers, 2021)
Caleb Aekins (Canberra Raiders), Kaide Ellis (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jack Hetherington (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Pat Hollis (released), Brayden McGrady (released), James Tamou (Wests Tigers), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (released)