Recent years have seen a resurgence for the Penrith Panthers, as they put together a side capable of challenging the top sides. Keen to invest in their youth as well as maintaining the experience within their roster, the Panthers are building towards potential success under Ivan Cleary. Can they go all the way or are they still one step short of the elite sides?
One of the biggest talking points out of Penrith and one that will play a big impact for the Supercoach and Fantasy players out there is whether or not the Panthers will go with one hooker or two.
Fingers and toes are crossed as fans wait with bated breath, hoping and praying that James Segeyaro is the sole hooker named. His form from last year would suggest he is more than capable of playing the entire 80 minutes and excelling but the signing of Apisai Koroisau from Souths has cast some doubt over that. Koroisau himself joined some decent minutes and form in 2014 and whilst it may not be enough to usurp Segeyaro entirely, there is a strong possibility that he will indeed come off the bench.
The final make-up of their side will also be interesting, particularly in the forward pack and the back-line. With several players under some injury clouds and others hoping they can earn a first-grade spot, the competition for a start will be fiercely competitive.
With the likes of Sika Manu, Bryce Cartwright, Tyrone Peachey and co. all vying for a spot, deciding just who will start, who will play off the bench and who misses out, will not be an easy decision for coach Ivan Cleary.
Manu is the biggest of the trio but over the last couple of seasons, has not quite been the destructive fringe runner he is capable of and it may be that he misses out.
With the emergence of both Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, two young prospects seen as the back-row future of the club, the club is in good stead in that department.
Both are not the biggest players but they have heart and ticker and use their footy smarts and awareness to duck, weave and dodge defenders, in order to create more space or offload the ball. Cartwright in particular is a player destined for big things in the NRL. Having excelled in both the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup – and making it look all too easy for that matter – he is a player that has a big future ahead of him. With huge wraps on him from the Penrith coaching staff, the Penrith fans and even rival fans, the fact that he slotted straight into first-grade with apparent ease makes it easy to see why he is touted as one of the next promising Penrith juniors and potential future star.
The Panthers back-line may also contain some surprise inclusions and potential future stars, especially with the injury to representative winger, Josh Mansour. Set to miss at least the first few weeks of the season, it opens up a spot for a talented youngster to earn a spot, make a claim and potentially hold down a spot. It is the young guns like Waqa Blake and George Jennings working hard, playing hard and pushing hard for that start in the early rounds and they are the sort of players that will be ready for the opportunity, should it arise. The early contender for that spot seems to be Waqa Blake, who in recent years, has made quite an impression among Penrith fans and opposition teams in the Holden Cup and NSW Cup.
Best buy: The Panthers were not too busy in recruitment, so their best buy options are limited but there is one name that stands out and that is Apisai Koroisau. Joining the club from Souths in the off-season, he was signed to add depth to the hooker role after the retirement of Kevin Kingston. With speculation galore as to whether or not he will snag a bench spot, the belief of some is that he will start the year in the NSW Cup and play first-grade should James Segeyaro not be able to. Koroisau showed his acceleration and vision out of dummy half for Souths but after playing second fiddle to Issac Luke for some years, the enigmatic, live-wire player felt it was best to make a move elsewhere and thus found a new home at Penrith.
Most Promising Talent: Touted as one of the club’s next best props and on the cusp of a potential first-grade berth, Regan Campbell-Gillard is a prop destined for big things in NRL. With a slew of representative accolades to his name, the young, hulking prop has been one of the club’s best in both the NSW Cup and Holden Cup over the years. Basically ready to take that next step, RGC is a young player that has a bright future and a player that has a high work-rate, commits and plays hard and loves rugby league. Highly rated by both Panthers fans, some rival fans and the Penrith coaching staff, it is a matter of time before Campbell-Gillard is afforded more regular opportunities in first-grade. That chance may come sooner rather than later, given some of the forward depth at the Panthers is not as strong.
2015 Gains: Rodney Coates (2015), Adrian Davis (2015), Apisai Koroisau (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Mid Season: Wests Tigers), Tupou Sopoaga (Cronulla Sharks)
Our predicted line-up:
1. Matt Moylan
2. Josh Mansour/Waqa Blake (Blake to play only if Mansour is injured)
3. Dean Whare
4. Jamal Idris
5. David Simmons
6. Jamie Soward
7. Peter Wallace (C)
8. Brent Kite
9. James Segeyaro
10. Sam McKendry
11. Bryce Cartwright
12. Tyrone Peachey
13. Elijah Taylor
14. Sika Manu
15. Nigel Plum
16. Lewis Brown
17. Jeremy Latimore
Coach: Ivan Cleary