Naturally plenty of pressure will be applied to key off-season buys; Petero Civoniceva and Adam Woolnough and these two big units should go a long way to improving the defensive centre field problems of 2007.
Panthers coach Matt Elliott should also look to rookies Jarrod Sammut, Michael Jennings, Geoff Daniela and ex-Raiders half Josh McCrone to provide the spark the Panthers need in other areas to get them back to into the winners circle again.
If Penrith are to be serious finals contenders this time round, they will need to work hard in the areas of attitude, fitness and most importantly discipline. Too many times last year Penrith looked to be well off the NRL pace in terms of conditioning, with the Panthers losing several tight games after surrendering big leads. Early pre-season drills involving NRL referee’s at Panthers training was a step in the right direction for the mountain men as they try and curb their misbehavior problems on field.
Coach Elliott will be hoping that a more focused attitude from his squad will go a long way to improving their miserly 8 wins last year. Realistically though, the Panthers may struggle with depth this season should injuries or suspension bite them. It’s probably for this reason that most punters have penciled the Panthers in for a lower ladder position come end of season.
Penrith have an impressive array of younger talent coming through their junior sides, with players like Sammut, Jennings and Michael Gordon all making their marks last year. The Panthers do possess that try scoring potential from their outside backs and they should get plenty of chances to shine given the creative brand of footy that the Puletua brothers and others provide up front.
Penrith will have no problems in scoring tries, but they will have to stiffen their goalline defence if they hope to move up the ladder in season â€™08. The additions of Civoniceva and Woolnough should go along way to solving that dilemma, as will the return of fullback Rhys Wesser from a lengthy injury spell.
With former halfback and favourite son Craig Gower relocating to French rugby and potential superstar Peter Wallace signing with the Broncos, it has left a massive hole in the Panthers halves pairing for this year. Former centre Luke Lewis steps into the unfamiliar role of five-eight, while enigmatic half Joe Williams gets first shot at the number seven jersey after two inconsistent years at Souths. The Panthers have seemingly the weakest halves pairing in the competition, with the most troublesome sign for coach Elliott is the lack of backup in the key playmaking positions.
2008 Likely NRL Starting Side:
1- Rhys Wesser
2- Luke Rooney
3- Michael Jennings
4- Brad Tighe
5- Michael Gordon
6- Luke Lewis
7- Joe Williams
8- Adam Woolnough
9- Luke Priddis
10- Petero Civoniceva
11- Tony Puletua
12- Frank Pritchard
13- Trent Waterhouse
14- Paul Aiton
15- Frank Puletua
16- Nathan Smith
17â€“ Tim Grant
Player Acquisitions and Departures:
Petero Civoniceva (Brisbane), Joe Williams (South Sydney), Adam Woolnough (Newcastle), Brad Tighe (Newcastle), Josh McCrone (Canberra)
Joel Clinton and Peter Wallace (Brisbane), Craig Gower (French rugby union), Nick Youngquest (Wests Tigers), Bryan Norrie (Cronulla), Matthew Cross (Gold Coast), Brett Firman (released)