Penrith Panthers: Season Review

Regular Season
WINS: 11
LOSSES: 12
DRAWS: 1
POSITION: 11th
HOME RECORD: 7 wins, 3 losses (=8th)
AWAY RECORD: 4 wins, 8 losses (=10th)
 
After Finals
Did Not Qualify
 
BEST WINNING STREAK: 4 (rounds 7-11)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 2 (rounds 1-2, 5-6, 14-15, 22-23 and 25-26)
PLAYERS USED: 27 (4 debutant)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trent Waterhouse
TRIES SCORED: 86 (11th)
TRIES CONCEDED: 101 (=14th)
 
Rarely has a side looked so impressive at their best, yet so clueless at their worst as Penrith in 2009. At times they produced some of the most dazzling rugby league seen all season and with five rounds remaining a top-eight finish seemed a formality. But inexplicably they self-combusted when it mattered most, losing four of the last five games to miss the finals by two points.

In fact, their last two games will no doubt haunt Panthers fans for quite some time.

Needing to win just one, they crashed 48-6 to Parramatta and then 35-0 to Newcastle as their Mad Monday came far too early.

Earlier, the club had enjoyed a dramatic turnaround after losing their first two games of the season – climbing off the canvas to win six of their next eight games and move to fourth spot on the NRL ladder.

Led from the front by inspirational skipper Petero Civoniceva and tryscoring machine Michael Jennings, the Panthers scored impressive wins over premiership candidates Manly and the Gold Coast and piled on 40 points against Wests Tigers, Sydney Roosters and South Sydney along the way.

Consistency proved to be their downfall, however, because every time they started to look the goods it would inevitably unravel – leaving them short of a finals berth for the fifth year running.

Where They Excelled… The Panthers had no trouble scoring points and their left-side combination of Frank Pritchard and Michael Jennings were unstoppable at times.

Jennings was breathtaking. He scored 17 tries in 19 games including a record 109-metre solo effort against the Sydney Roosters in Round 11 on his way to a hat-trick – that performance sealing a maiden State of Origin jumper for NSW.

He also scored three against Parramatta in Round 17.

Where They Struggled…
Experience, or lack thereof, told for the Panthers in 2009.

The club boasts a plethora of exciting young talent, but injuries to captain Civoniceva, fullback Lachlan Coote, utility Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon as the season wore on proved critical.

Certainly Jarrod Sammut will want to forget his miserable night out at Parramatta in Round 25 where a series of errors and a one-on-one strip by Parramatta winger Luke Burt that led directly to a try marred his big occasion.

Missing In Action… The performances of back-rower Frank Pritchard towards the end of the season were hugely disappointing.

A devastating ball-runner with a superb offload, he ran for just 51 metres against Parramatta in Round 25 and 89 against Newcastle a week later in Penrith’s two most important games of the season.

Turning Point…
Penrith’s 32-all draw with the struggling Warriors in Round 21 was probably an indication of what was to come in the ensuing rounds.

In hindsight, the manner in which the Panthers came back from the dead that night masked their problems.

Down 32-6, they staged one of the more remarkable comebacks ever seen but the fact they conceded 32 points in the first place against a side that had struggled to find the line highlighted their defensive woes.

In the four losses that followed Penrith conceded a staggering 166 points.

Best Games… The Sydney Roosters haven’t taken much beating this season but the manner in which Penrith tore them apart in Round 11 was as impressive as it comes.

The Panthers scored nine tries to one in a thumping 48-6 demolition of the wooden-spooners, with Michael Jennings scoring a brilliant hat-trick including an amazing 109-metre effort from deep inside his own in-goal.

It was a reminder of just how lethal Penrith can be on their day.

Worst Games… Penrith’s Round 25 capitulation against Parramatta was a forgettable outing from the mountain men.

Needing to win to guarantee a finals finish, the Panthers trailed 18-0 at half-time before falling 48-6 as the Eels ran riot.

It didn’t help that they backed up a week later with another miserable performance – in another must-win game – in falling 35-0 to Newcastle.

Hold Your Head High… Michael Jennings. The 21-year-old speedster is worth the price of admission to CUA Stadium alone. Boasting superb foot work and the ability to create something from nothing, he was scintillating in 2009 on his way to 17 tries and a call-up to the NSW State of Origin side.

Typical of his season was a three-try effort against Parramatta in Round 17 when he was quite clearly the difference between the two sides.

Coach Matt Elliott Says… “It was a pretty disappointing end to what was an otherwise positive season for us. The way we finished in those last four weeks didn’t represent what we did during the season. The disappointment is still fresh – I’m devastated actually. We had plenty of positives – Michael Jennings, Trent Waterhouse was unbelievable and the young players in the team showed a lot of improvement but in the end that’s what cost us, too.

“The season got long for the young kids. State of Origin cost us too – we lost Petero Civoniceva and Luke Lewis. Michael Jennings picked up an injury as well and was never quite the same afterwards. We’re a far more capable group than what we displayed at the end of the season.”

Conclusion…
So much promise, so little delivery. There is little doubt this Panthers outfit has a bright future ahead. Youngsters Jennings, Lachlan Coote, Wade Graham, Masada Iosefa and Tim Grant look more impressive with each passing season and the club’s forwards stocks rank among the best in the NRL.

But none of that will ease the pain of 2009.

Penrith boast enough talent to give the premiership a real shake. It’s time they started to deliver.