Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Penrith Panthers

The Panthers are that team that many believe can go far, even if they are not regarded as an elite team. With a big fanbase, able players and a smart system in place, every year, their profile grows as does their confidence. 2017 shapes as a season whereby the Panthers can emerge as a genuine threat in the game and compete with those teams regarded as elite. 

With that, though, comes added pressure. With somewhat of a youthful playing roster, their experienced players will have to step up and act as mentors to guide both the young players and the team itself forward. Their youthful exuberance is a result of the club blooding the youngsters that they believe are capable and knowing that mixing it with experienced players is the way to achieve a perfect balance.

One of the most important players for the club is halfback Nathan Cleary. With the dreaded second year syndrome a real thing in the rugby league landscape, there is genuine pressure on Cleary to continue to perform at the level that he did in his debut season. A talented half blessed with an astute kicking and passing game, his individual success is instrumental to the Panthers chances in 2017. As a half, it will be up to him to lead the side around the park, dictate the terms and then taking advantage of the groundwork laid out by the forwards.

The next interesting point is who will partner Cleary in the halves. Cartwright or Martin? Both are equally adept at playing in the five-eighth role but they are also very different types of players. Cartwright, as we saw late on in 2016, is a genuine runner of the ball blessed with a knack of offloading the footy in easy or difficult situations. That ability comes from his upbringing through the junior ranks and the start of his NRL career, where he played almost exclusively as a back-rower. Whilst his defence might be a bit suspect in the eyes of some, he is seen as an x-factor in the Penrith side and if they want an adlib player capable of producing a moment of brilliance, in the middle of the field for a hard-running forward or the club’s fullback, then Cartwright’s offloading ability might just be able to create those opportunities.
As for Te Maire Martin, he is coming off a long-term injury, which may prevent his play at the start. He is gifted, however, and highly rated by the fans, which does work in his favour. With a tendency to pick players that can play within the confines of his system, Martin is a player with something to prove and if his transition back into the first-grade proves successful, he and Cleary could become the mainstays of the club’s halves for years to come.

Enjoying some success last year as a team, the 2017 season presents a dynamic of a different kind for the club, its fans and coach Anthony Griffin. 2017 sees the return of both Peta Hiku and Dean Whare, both talented players in their own right and capable of producing solid, consistent form.
The different dynamic in this instance is the form that fill-in centre Tyrone Peachey showed just how good he is in the role, forming a strong partnership with the winger on his outside. Which then begs the question – do you retain Peachey in that role based on how he performed in 2016 or does he revert back to his original position as the bench utility?
Whilst he is not a natural centre, his form in the role in 2016 might be enough to see him retain it. With the looming threat of more genuine centres in Whare and Hiku, though, is it worthwhile retaining him there or utilising the proper centre options at your disposal. In addition to that, many still believe that Peachey’s best position is as that utility off the bench, given the array of spots he can cover in a pinch and maintaining consistency.

All in all, many Penrith fans have high hopes and expectations of the team and with the players they have both produced and bought in recent years to strengthen their side, you would think that they are on the precipice of elite status as a footballing team. With that, though, comes the expectation which for some teams and players, they can often struggle to cope with and deal with. Therein lies the challenge for not only the Penrith players but also coach Anthony Griffin. In order to get the very best out of his players and have them challenging the top sides, they will need to work together as a unit, remain consistent and perhaps most importantly, establish a sense of unison and cohesion between all the players on the park.

Best Buy: Making a surprise move from former club, the North Queensland Cowboys, the Penrith pack became even bigger and stronger, with James Tamou signing. Whilst in the eyes of some, he can be inconsistent, he has proven that he can perform consistently at the club level and he has the representative appearances to justify that consistency. A hulking prop, more often than not, he gets over the advantage line and helps set the platform for the Penrith team who then have the players to capitalise on the good metres. Working in tandem with the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin, the trio – among their other forwards – will be expected to lay a solid foundation and make the hard yards that the club needs. Penrith fans are excited about the signing of Tamou and believe he can contribute greatly to the overall nature of what the club wants to achieve.

Best Young Talent: Penrith have always been blessed with a litany of talented juniors and this year is no exception. The potential for a first-grade spot beckons for Dylan Edwards who is perhaps one or two injuries away from making his mark. A technically gifted player, Edwards has shone at both the Holden Cup and NSW Cup level and has Penrith fans excited about what he can produce at the top level. Some may see him as a touch small in stature but he showed enough versatility in his sole first-grade appearance to suggest that it will not be an issue. A hard-worker and a player that prides himself on performing well, Edwards has every chance to become a mainstay of the side if the cards fall into place and Penrith fans will be hopeful that he can make the most of it and perform well to help propel their side towards potential success.

Our predicted Penrith line-up at full strength for the 2017 season is:

  1. Matt Moylan (C)
  2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
  3. Dean Whare
  4. Peta Hiku
  5. Josh Mansour
  6. Te Maire Martin
  7. Nathan Cleary
  8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  9. Peter Wallace
  10. James Tamou
  11. Isaah Yeo
  12. Bryce Cartwright
  13. Trent Merrin

14. Mitch Rein
15. Tyrone Peachey
16. Leilani Latu
17. James Fisher-Harris

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