Jem Nash reviews the 2023 Season of the Penrith Panthers where they finished premiers for a third consecutive season.
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The Panthers Become One of the Great NRL Teams
The Panthers entered this season chasing a historic three-peat, and in an extraordinary decider, they got the job done behind the largest grand final comeback ever.
There were times throughout the season that it didn’t look like Penrith would get the job done. A Round 9 loss to eventual wooden spooners the Tigers had many people doubting the team’s chances.
The Panthers managed to make it through a Nathan Cleary hamstring injury and still finish the regular season as minor premiers for the third time in four seasons. A shoulder injury to halves partner Jarome Luai late in the season raised further concerns.
With backup Jack Cogger filling the hole left by Luai with ease, the Panthers cruised into a fourth straight grand final, beating the Warriors and Storm by a combined 60 points. This set up a blockbuster clash against the Broncos in the grand final, as the two sides split their matches in the regular season.
After a gruelling and intense first half, a second half blitz from the Broncos, led by an Ezra Mam hat-trick, left the Panthers trailing by 16 points with just under 20 minutes left. Enter Nathan Cleary. The star halfback led one of the most remarkable comebacks on his way to a second Clive Churchill Medal and an incredible third premiership in a row.
It was an incredible team performance from the Panthers all season. Cleary led from the front, helped by Isaah Yeo (who won the Merv Cartwright Medal). The front row pairing of Moses Leota and James Fisher-Harris got Penrith on the front foot almost every week. Dylan Edwards capped off another top season by earning selection in the Kangaroos squad, while the backline continued to impress, led by Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, and Dally M Rookie of the Year, Sunia Turuva.
The Panthers will likely enter the 2024 season as favourites, but they will have to once again overcome a couple of key losses. Crichton has been an incredibly important piece to this champion team, and his departure to the Bulldogs will leave a massive hole. Spencer Leniu’s impact off the bench will also be hard to replace, while Cogger provided a perfect halves replacement and bench piece in the finals.
Key Player Stats
Most Try Assists: 20, Nathan Cleary
Most Line-breaks: 24, Brian To’o
Most Run Metres: 5,390, Dylan Edwards (NRL Leader)
Most Post Contact Metres: 1,589, Brian To’o
Most Tackles: 938, Isaah Yeo
Most Errors: 23, Brian To’o