Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Penrith Panthers

Day 6 of the previews has come around already and today, the Penrith Panthers are going under the microscope. Their recruitment drive has probably been the best out of any side for 2014 but will the players be able to gel quickly enough to get results early on, or will the opening games be a struggle as players look to get used to one another’s play.

GAINS: Anthony Cherrington (Pre Season – Sydney Roosters) Isaac John (Pre Season – Wakefield Trinity Wildcats) Elijah Taylor (NZ Warriors) Brent Kite (Manly Sea Eagles) Jamie Soward(Dragons) Luke Capewell (Broncos) Tyrone Peachey (Sharks) Kevin Naiqama (Knights) Will Smith (Knights) Shaun Spence (Tigers) Peter Wallace (Brisbane Broncos) Wellington Albert (Papua New Guinea) Leilani Latu (Canterbury Bulldogs)

Turnover is normal in the world of rugby league but for the Penrith Panthers, they have seen a mountain of players leave and a mountain of players come in, in an attempt to chase premiership glory. It can work or it can back-fire, but the primary question that some will ask heading into the season is: did the club get rid of the right players and did the club buy the right players?
With certain hesitance over some bought players and how they will perform – given previous heavy criticism they have received from their time at other clubs – the key for the new players is to perform well and perform early. They may otherwise find themselves under some heavy pressure.

Penrith fans are a group of supporters that take immense pride in their team and their team’s performances and in recent years, things have not quite gone their way. With stability offered by Ivan Cleary and a solid mix of youth and experience – both players from within the club and outside it – if the Panthers get firing early, they are a good chance of causing some upsets against the more fancied teams moving forward.

One big question mark that a lot of Penrith fans and even rival fans are going to have regarding Penrith, is how their new halves are going to go at a new club.
In all likelihood, it would appear that Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace are going to be the club’s halves and despite joining the Panthers side full of ability and promise, both have received stern criticism from Dragons fans and Broncos fans respectively.
Whilst both enjoyed decent stints as their club’s predominant halves, both also enjoyed inconsistent stints and as a result, they became the ire of criticism by their respective fans.

We know that they both have the ability, but the key for them moving forward is to put any prior criticisms aside and focus on the task at hand – the task they are required to do – and that is to create opportunities for their team-mates. A task easier said than done of course, but the duo are going to play a vital role in just how successful the Panthers are going to be and how far they are going to progress in the season. If they can click and fire, they will be a tough duo to face.

Another duo – although they are on the opposite side of the coin – is the partnership between Dean Whare and David Simmons. Perhaps one of the best centre/wing pairings last year based on statistics alone, it was a season that saw Simmons rack up the tries and Whare rack up the line-break assists. With both likely to retain their spots in their respective positions, the opportunity to continue such a strong partnership is just as strong and with the ability of Whare to get outside his man and draw in the wingers, you would not be surprised in the slightest if their link up play is once again on fire.

A player that will be crucial in the scheme of the Panthers season moving forward and one that is still yet to reach his full potential as a player – hard to believe when you think about it – is another one of their recruits, Jamal Idris.
Often criticised for his weight, there is no better time or opportunity for Idris to achieve a solid level of consistency in his game and make his mark as an elite NRL centre. He looked like he was on his way to getting close to that level at the Titans last year, before an injury robbed him of the chance. At his best, Idris is destructive, powerful and hard to stop in full flight. When he is not playing his best, though, his skills-set suffers as a result and he finds it hard to get into games as well as he should.
If he can maintain consistency, there is no doubting that with his ability, he can carve his way into the echelon of elite NRL centres.

Overall, the Panthers side is potent enough and strong enough to potentially challenge for a top 8 spot – at the very least. As to whether they achieve that remains to be seen, considering the questions that are still unanswered heading into the season. With a solid coach in Ivan Cleary at the helm and an Executive GM like Phil Gould calling the shots, though, you can bet that the club is headed in the right direction as they chase premiership glory.

Here’s the side I’d go with for Penrith in Rd 1:

1. Matt Moylan
2. Josh Mansour
3. Dean Whare
4. Jamal Idris
5. David Simmons
6. Jamie Soward
7. Peter Wallace
8. Brent Kite
9. Kevin Kingston (C)
10. Tim Grant
11. Lewis Brown
12. Elijah Taylor
13. Adam Docker

14. James Segeyaro
15. Tyrone Peachey
16. Nigel Plum
17. Sam McKendry

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