Here we are at part 10 of my season previews, just 6 more to go. This time, it’s the Penrith Panthers set to go under the microscope as they look to an improved 2013 season following a huge buying spree of talented players.

The first thing anyone is going to notice about the Panthers side in 2013, is just how many new players will be involved with the club.
Penrith recruited a lot of players this off-season, and they were: Lewis Brown (Warriors), Tom Humble (Tigers), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), Sika Manu (Storm), Mose Masoe (Roosters), Wes Naiqama and Kyle O’Donnell (Knights), Mosese Pangai and James Segeyaro (Cowboys), James Roberts (Souths) and Dean Whare (Sea Eagles).

With that much recruitment, it signals an intent by the club that a changing of the guard is in the air. That the club seeks to go in a new direction, one that they hope is positive for not only 2013 but in the future. The question is, however, can the wholesale buying spell the Panthers underwent bring about possible success quickly, or will they still be deemed as a work in progress given the time the players will need to gel with and mold with their new team-mates and climate?

Of all the signings the Panthers made, the one that sticks out to me, is that of Lewis Brown.
Brown, who joined the club from the Warriors, is in my view, the best utility in the NRL at the moment.
Able to cover a multitude of positions from the wing, centre, five-eighth, hooker, second-row and lock, positions that he has played in over his career, shows his versatility across the board.
With several players expected to cop heavy criticism throughout the year should their performances not be up to par, you wouldn’t be surprised if Brown was thrust into that position as a replacement, given his versatility.

To pinpoint his one specialist position, however, it’d have to be the back-row given that’s where he feels most comfortable playing – but with versatility like his, would you play him where needed as a Mr Fix-It or would you have him play one position throughout the year.

As is the case with any side, depth is a key factor in the long, gruelling NRL season that players face. The Panthers have depth galore at their club, particularly in the back-row, which is set to make life difficult for Ivan Cleary, given that he’ll really only pick 4-5 players in his 17 that can play back-row out of the multitude they have.
With some players undoubtedly missing out (potentially new off-season recruits, too), one has to wonder how that will affect not only those individual players but the teams a whole.

To follow on from that, a key point will be to see how well the new recruits gel with the players already at the club, given that for clubs, at times, some players can often struggle to adapt to their new club.
It is a process that will take time and a process that some players will adjust to quicker than others, but one that Panthers fans will be hoping can see all new recruits gel and adjust as quickly as possible, as to get off to a handy start this season.

The loss of Michael Jennings to the Roosters will hurt the club, given the speed, athleticism and rep experience he brought to the Panthers back-line, but after recent comments he made about the Roosters side having more talent, he may well have fired up the current Panthers back-line to perform.
It’ll be up to the likes of Josh Mansour, Lachlan Coote, Geoff Daniela and youngsters Mosese Pangai and Dean Whare among others, to help the Panthers back-line produce the desired results – as they look to show that they can perform without Jennings in the back-line.

Perhaps the major sticking point for the Panthers, however, is that of their halves, especially the halfback role. Whilst he is a talented halfback, Luke Walsh has copped a fair amount of criticism over the years for varying reasons, with some Panthers fans quite vocal on their views of him and his performances over the last few years.
Walsh, who can be quite inconsistent at times, will be hoping that 2013 will be the year he can overcome those inconsistencies given the team he has to work with at his disposal and with new recruits.

Perhaps an additional boost for him to perform, will come via the club recruiting former New Zealand Warriors halfback Issac John – a move that will place pressure on Walsh to perform and one that will have him looking over his shoulder more often than usual.
Should he not perform over the first 6-8 rounds, would you want to see John come in and replace him or would you persist with Walsh?

Overall, many seem to believe that Penrith will once again be cellar-dwellars, but as the world of NRL shows, anything is possible over the course of the year.
With a talented playing roster at their disposal, the key is getting the best out of experienced players and gelling together as a unit as quickly as possible – something that is often easier said than done.
If the Panthers can go into games with the right attitude, they have the potential in their roster to challenge for a spot in the 8 or the fringes of the top eight.

Two players for me to watch out for, are firstly Dean Whare – a recruit from Manly capable of playing anywhere from 1-5 in a team, and a player who is coming off some stellar form for Manly when given the opportunity last season, something he will look to build on.
Whare reads the game well and links up well with his other outside backs, so the Panthers will be expecting a lot of Whare in 2013 and will be hopeful that he can emulate that success he had at Manly.

The other is young gun Mosese Pangai. Recruited from the Cowboys in the off-season, Pangai is a giant of a kid and often caused problems for opposition defences over the last couple of years in NYC – a trait that Panthers fans (for those who have seen Pangai in the past), will be hoping he can emulate for their club, should he see first-grade. Highly rated by the Cowboys who had to let him go, if he gets going in the NRL, he may be hard to stop. Having seen him myself a few times, the Panthers have made an astute buy for the future – with Pangai a player that is destined for big things in rugby league.

1. Dean Whare
2. Geoff Daniela
3. Brad Tighe
4. Wes Naiqama
5. Josh Mansour
6. Lachlan Coote
7. Luke Walsh
8. Tim Grant
9. Kevin Kingston
10. Sam McKendry
11. Lewis Brown
12. Sika Manu
13. Nathan Smith

14. James Segeyaro
15. Dayne Weston
16. Clint Newton
17. Nigel Plum

By ricky

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