After celebrating a long-awaited premiership, the rest of the competition will be targeting the Panthers in 2022, who will have a tougher time backing up with some key losses in the off-season.
2022 PANTHERS SQUAD
Eddie Blacker, Nathan Cleary, Christian Crichton, Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards, Matt Eisenhuth, Kurt Falls, Mavrik Geyer, James Fisher-Harris, J’maine Hopgood, Robert Jennings, Thomas Jenkins, Mitch Kenny, Viliame Kikau, Apisai Koroisau, Spencer Leniu, Moses Leota, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin, Taylan May, Sean O’Sullivan, Preston Riki, Jaeman Salmon, Chris Smith, Lindsay Smith, Scott Sorensen, Charlie Staines, Izack Tago, Brian To’o, Sunia Turuva, Isaah Yeo.
KEY SIGNINGEmbed from Getty Images
Christian Crichton (Bulldogs), Sean O’Sullivan (New Zealand Warriors), Chris Smith (Bulldogs)
There weren’t many signings for the Panthers this off season, as they will once again look to their junior depth to fill the holes their key departures left. Players like Izack Tago and Spencer Leniu should become regulars in first grade due to some of the losses after some impressive showings in limited opportunities last year.
Sean O’Sullivan will provide some solid depth in the halves, particularly during the Origin period where Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai are once again likely to feature, while Crichton will probably struggle to regularly crack into first grade. Chris Smith also makes his return to the side he made his debut with back in 2015
KEY PLAYEREmbed from Getty Images
Reigning Clive Churchill medallist Nathan Cleary will once again be key to the Panthers chances in 2022. The Panthers still have plenty of firepower across the park but it’s Cleary that runs the show at Penrith. His kicking game remains one of the best in the competition and has continued to get better each season of his still young career.
It might take a little while for Cleary to warm into the season coming off serious shoulder surgery, but once fully fit expect him to pick up from where he left off in last year’s grand final. Losing one of his major attacking weapons in Matt Burton will hurt but he still has plenty of firepower to take advantage of with the likes of his halves partner Jarome Luai, as well as Dylan Edwards and Brian To’o.
PLAYER TO WATCHEmbed from Getty Images
After an impressive season last year with 20 appearances, young forward Spencer Leniu is primed for a breakout year in 2022. After providing great enthusiasm and spark off the bench in his limited opportunities over the last couple of seasons, Leniu should feature more this year and become a regular rotation in the forward line.
With James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota still holding down the fort in the starting line-up, Leniu doesn’t need to be a star, but with likely extended minutes, he is set to become a key part of this Panthers side in their title defence.
Sea Eagles (H), Dragons (A), Knights (H), Rabbitohs (H), Bulldogs (A), Broncos (H), Raiders (H), Titans (A), Eels (H), Storm (Magic Round), Roosters (A), Cowboys (H), Bulldogs (H), Knights (A), Warriors (A), Roosters (H), Tigers (A), Sharks (H), Eels (A), Raiders (A), Storm (H), Rabbitohs (A), Warriors (H), Cowboys (A)
Everyone knows how tough it is to back up a grand final victory, and it’s not going to be any easier for the Panthers this season.
The reigning premiers will be significantly hurt by some big departures, highlighted by Matt Burton and Kurt Capewell. After starting the 2021 season in NSW Cup, Burton quickly became one of the premier centres in the competition after covering for injuries early in the year, while Capewell became a mainstay in the second row during his two seasons at the foot of the mountains. In both spots, the Panthers will be relying on their younger up and comers to fill some important holes.
Luckily for Penrith, there shouldn’t be too much disturbance elsewhere. Cleary and Luai will partner in the halves once again, Dylan Edwards will man fullback after a career best year in 2021, while Api Koroisau, Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo will headline a very strong forward pack.
If their defence can back up from an exceptionally good season in 2021, there’s no reason why the Panthers can’t contend once again this year. Their spine remains the same as last year, while many of their players are still young and likely haven’t hit their prime yet.
While making it two premierships in a row might be tough, it’s difficult to imagine this team falling outside the top four this season.