Nicholas Janzen,, NRL.com
No one truly expected the Panthers to challenge for a finals position in 2013 but, despite failing to qualify for the playoffs as predicted, there’s plenty for Penrith fans to take out of an impressive rebuilding season at the foot of the mountains.
With a roster lacking stability and superstars following the departure of long-term heroes Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon, this year was all about long-term plans rather than short-term success. As a result of the Panthers hierarchy’s five-year strategy, they brought in a host of young prospects including Dean Whare, Lewis Brown, Jeremy Latimore and James Roberts, as well as somewhat-established stars James Segeyaro and Sika Manu. They joined a licorice all-sorts mix of players already at the club, most of whom had already served at other NRL franchises and had been deemed surplus to demands before arriving in Penrith.
The Panthers’ season began in as-predicted fashion, with the club winning just two of their opening eight matches, suffering big defeats at the hands of the Titans, Cowboys and Roosters, and taking a considerable amount of time to gel as a unit. Then, in Round 9, the unthinkable happened – Penrith’s bunch of rugby league discards and journeymen upset the reigning premiers Melbourne in the biggest of boilovers, and belief started to build in Panther town. Belief the previously written-off group had potential. Belief the team had ability to make a push for the playoffs in 2013. The following week they walloped the Warriors 62-6, before slaying the Dragons 19-0 at Kogarah the next round.
With a further three victories in their next five games the Panthers surged to seventh on the competition table by Round 18 – a far cry from what even their most one-eyed supporters were hoping for at the start of the season – and their finals flame started to burn brightly.
But, almost straight afterwards, the wheels began to wobble and, eventually, fell off following consecutive losses to the Knights, Sharks, Roosters and Cowboys.
The fact they finished with three wins from their final four games – with victories against the Warriors, Broncos and Sea Eagles – though, proves they have a promising future.
Where They Excelled: The Panthers were top shelf in the small number of errors they conceded. They were, most of the time, clinical and respectful of the football. They averaged just 9.6 errors per game – third fewest in the league – and gave their opponents limited additional opportunities with the football as a result. In their victories they choked their opposition of possession, grinding them into submission before killing them off completely. The Panthers were also notable for the number of tries scored from the boot this season – a product of the at-times-excellent kicking game of Luke Walsh. Penrith finished with 23 four-pointers from the boot this season – equal first in the competition.
Where They Struggled: The Panthers struggled most with a fundamental rugby league skill – completing tackles. Slipping off at the point of impact ultimately cruelled their season as they conceded more missed tackles than their opposition in all but one of their 13 losses. They averaged 29 missed tackles per game – 15th in the competition. It ultimately brought down their 2013 season.
Missing In Action: The Panthers used 30 players in all across the season – the equal-third-largest squad called on in 2013. The high figure is indicative of the injury problems Penrith experienced throughout the year: Sam Anderson (knee – played three matches), Lachlan Coote (pectoral – played seven matches), Adam Docker (hand – played 17 matches), Sam McKendry (neck – played 12 matches), Nigel Plum (shoulder – played 18 matches), Matt Robinson (neck – played 11 matches), Josh Mansour (eye – played 14 matches), Sika Manu (hand – played 20 matches), Tim Grant (hand – played 21 matches) and Tom Humble (ankle – played six matches).
Turning Point: Before the Panthers’ 12-10 win against the Storm in Round 9, they’d won just two of their opening eight matches. The victory against Melbourne gave them belief and, even though they aren’t featuring in this season’s finals series, their eight wins-seven losses record from that point onwards gives them positives to take into the off-season.
Best Games: It’s hard to look past the Panthers’ 62-6 demolition of the Warriors as one of their brightest highlights from 2013. A rampant Penrith line-up ran in 10 tries, Luke Walsh kicked 11 goals and all of Penrith cheered a famous victory. Penrith will also look back on their last-round victory against the Sea Eagles with great fondness – travelling to Brookvale, they manhandled Manly, recorded a determined 38-26 victory and ultimately ended the season as winners, farewelling their departing stars in fine fashion.
Worst Games: Horrible is the only way to describe the Panthers’ effort against the Sharks in Round 20 at Remondis Stadium. With a finals position in the offing and a good performance needed to get their finals campaign back on track, Penrith were poor at best. The Sharks ran in six tries while the Panthers slipped to 30 missed tackles. A better performance – and a win – could well have seen them qualify for the finals series.
Hold Your Head High: There are plenty of Panthers who can hold their heads high, particularly after their tough start to the year. Winger David Simmons finished the season as the NRL’s equal leading try-scorer with 19, dynamic hooker James Segeyaro (the club’s second-highest try-scorer) found his feet quickly at the foot of the mountains, as did five-eighth Isaac John, and Dean Whare did a fine job in the centres in an exciting young Panthers backline. It all augers well for 2014. Halfback Luke Walsh can also be proud of his efforts – in his final year at Penrith before he heads to England, Walsh was instrumental in the No.7 jersey finishing with 16 try assists (11th overall in the competition).
Conclusion: This season was always one of rebuilding out at the Panthers, and it seems some giant steps were taken in 2013. With the likes of Brent Kite, Jamie Soward, Elijah Taylor, Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey coming to the club in 2014, and hard-working captain Kevin Kingston getting a late recall after earlier being tapped on the shoulder, things should only get better.
Home Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (=11th)
Away Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (=7th)
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (twice – Rounds 9-11, 16-18)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Rounds 2-6)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 84 (9th most)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 93 (12th)