Opinion by Matt Pritchard (Twitter @MattPNBL)
When it was announced mid-week that Matt Moylan would captain the Penrith Panthers in 2016 I was initially surprised.
The twenty-four year old has only played fifty National Rugby League matches. It would have been more except for a season ending injury against the Eels at Pepper Stadium in late May 2015.
It’s great in the 50th year of the club that Moylan from St Clair Comets will captain the NRL side. Craig Gower and Greg Alexander were local juniors who went on to raise the Cup on Grand Final Day in 2003 and 1991 respectively.
Is that an omen for Moylan to follow in the footsteps of these Panther greats?
There was a strong case for Elijah Taylor or newcomer Trent Merrin to replace Peter Wallace as skipper. Quite possibly Taylor wasn’t in the mix as he’s in the final year of his contract at Penrith, one of a number of players in the current squad that will be playing for their futures during the season.
Having time to think Anthony Griffin’s decision through, it’s a positive move for the Panthers but likely to be the end for a couple of National Rugby League veterans.
Not often do fullback’s get the chance to captain their side. Whilst Moylan is the current fullback at Penrith, that role is likely to head to new recruit in former Eagle Peta Hiku.
I would, like most Panther fans expect Moylan to move closer to the play. A move to five-eighth likely in a Darren Lockyer-type switch as early as the opening game of the season. The Panthers trial against Parramatta on February 20 will go a long way to determining this.
I also see Te Maire Martin making his National Rugby League debut in Canberra on Saturday May 5.
A quick analysis of Penrith’s 2015 season demonstrates why this will happen. The play makers struggled to be effective. It’s fair to say the solid combination of Wallace and Soward was missing at different stages of the season which didn’t help. The reality is Penrith scored the fewest points by a fair margin last season regardless of who played at six or seven.
I keep on being reminded that Ben Hunt was thrown into the deep end by Griffin at the Broncos and has become a representative quality player over the last few years. The same punt taken on Hunt will be taken on Martin. No doubt.
For Penrith to make the eight this year, changes need to be made in the prestigious halves area. Moylan and Martin are the playmakers to take the club forward.
My Panthers backline for 2016
Fullback: Peta Hiku
Wing: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Centre: Dean Whare
Centre: George Jennings/Robert Jennings
Wing: Josh Mansour
Five-Eighth: Matt Moylan (c)
Halfback: Te Maire Martin
The off-season has seen Wallace and Soward ‘shopped around’ in the media could end up in the the two jumping on the unpredictable merry-go-round which has seen a high amount of transfers over the summer months in recent history.
I can’t see either player wanting to play in the VB NSW Cup system, so it could be a career ending decision that comes to a head for these two who are in their early thirties.
Credit to Griffin on making a bold move, a calculated risk.
Matty Moylan won’t let his side down. As for Te Maire Martin, that final piece in the jigsaw might be solved as soon as three weeks time.