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Regular Season
Wins: 15
Losses: 9
Position: 2nd
Home Record: 9 wins, 3 losses (=1st)
Away Record: 6 wins, 6 losses (=3rd)
After Finals
Lost 24-22 v Raiders and lost 34-12 v Roosters to finish fifth.
Best Winning Streak: 4 (Rounds 4-7)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 18-20)
Players Used: 26
Player of the Year: Luke Lewis
Tries Scored (After 26 rounds): 111 (most)
Tries Conceded (After 26 rounds): 83 (third fewest)

They were fighting fit all year, but in the end, they could barely lay a punch.

Penrith produced their best season in five years when their 15-9 game record saw them finish second after the regular season. But after a promising and generally healthy year, their finals campaign was unfortunately cruelled by injury – twice being left with just one man on the bench in both finals as the mountain men bowed out of September in ‘straight sets’.

In his fourth year at the helm, coach Matt Elliott finally had his team firing on all cylinders throughout 2010, shredding their tag as underachievers on their way to unleashing the full force of their talented local juniors combined with some outstanding contributions from their acquired signings.

But while a number of individuals saw personal success in 2010, the team and their fans were left to rue a terrific opportunity to challenge for this year’s premiership. It left a bittersweet taste for the club and its supporters, who will no doubt be expecting greater success in 2011.

Where They Excelled… The Panthers were masters of the kick in the regular season, scoring an incredible 45 tries from the boot – more than any other team in the competition. Former Knight Luke Walsh seemed to have the pill on a string all year, consistently putting the ball on a platter for his team-mates on his way to registering an NRL-high 32 try assists.

But Walsh wasn’t the only one who enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2010. Winger/fullback Michael Gordon became the highest pointscorer in the NRL (as well as breaking some club records) while also earning himself a NSW jumper. Home-grown products Lachlan Coote (City), Tim Grant (City), Michael Jennings (NSW & Australia), Luke Lewis (NSW & Australia), Trent Waterhouse (City & NSW) and Sam McKendry (New Zealand train-on squad) also tasted representative success, while Skipper Petero Civoniceva (Queensland & Australia) and Campbelltown junior Frank Pritchard (New Zealand) saw their efforts rewarded by representative selectors too.

New recruits Travis Burns, Kevin Kingston and Walsh (added midway through ’09) also found homes at the foot of the mountains, the three playmakers developing an important combination that had the side scoring more points (26.9 per game) and tries (4.6 per game) than any other team in the NRL this season.

Where They Struggled… While their aerial pursuit proved a resounding success, it also appeared to be their Achilles heel. The Panthers drew heavy criticism from commentators because of their willingness to use the boot, which, in turn, stifled their attack. This was evidenced by their unusually low line-break (96 – 15th in the NRL) and tackle-bust count (31.9 – 15th in the NRL).

The damaging left-side pairing of Jennings (who began the year on the right side before switching back to the left) and Pritchard looked starved of the ball for much of the season, while ex-Raider Adrian Purtell struggled in defence, missing a total 89 tackles (sixth most in the NRL), before being shifted to the wing late in the year.  

The Panthers also seemed to have a problem with discipline throughout the season, conceding 164 penalties – the most of any team in the NRL – which often invited teams back into the game.

Missing In Action… As stated previously, the Panthers rarely saw the medical doctor during the season, but lucked out at the wrong end of the year. Coote missed six straight games with a groin injury only to come back underdone for their semi-final loss, while Grant missed almost two months with ankle and leg injuries.

But their biggest blows came in Round 25 – when captain Petero Civoniceva became the first player to be sent off this year, consequently missing two matches – and in the qualifying final, when Waterhouse (torn pectoral) and Pritchard (hamstring) failed to see out the game.

The final straw came in the opening 10 minutes of the elimination final the following week, when injuries to both Jennings (ankle) and Lewis (concussion) left the Panthers without much ammo in their biggest game of the year.

Turning Point… A last-gasp 34-30 victory in Newcastle was the catalyst for a four-game winning streak that stretched to 10 wins in 12 games through the middle of the year. The last of those wins, however, an inspiring 12-8 win at Kogarah in Round 17 when both teams were without their Origin stars, turned out to be their last win over a top-eight side for the year.

Penrith did recover to round out their season on a three-game winning streak (all against bottom-eight teams), but they barely stood a chance in finals due to that crippling injury run.

Best Games… A resounding 28-6 victory over an in-form Roosters outfit at CUA in Round 5 paved the way for a strong middle of the year that included an emphatic 40-22 win over the Sea Eagles in Round 16 (Heritage Round) – a game which has proven a marketing success since the introduction of the Pink Panthers.

But their most courageous win came on a Monday night at Kogarah, when lesser-known talents David Simmons and Sandor Earl, and young prospect Wade Graham, inspired their team-mates to victory over hot favourites St George-Illawarra.

Worst Games… A frustrating second-half shut-out in their 12-6 loss at home to the Warriors in Round 18 – when the Panthers launched raid after raid on the New Zealand line – first raised questions about Penrith’s reliance on the kick.

But it was their defence and mental application that was of concern the following week when the Panthers gave up a 22-0 lead over the Eels and had their fans demanding answers.

Arguably their most disappointing loss, however, was the qualifying final in Week One, when the Panthers produced a sub-par performance in front of a home crowd. A two-point loss meant a tough game against the Roosters the following week, instead of a much-needed week off.

Hold Your Head High… A lot of Panthers enjoyed breakthrough seasons, but none more than Gordon, who scored more points than anyone in the competition (270), made a team-high 105 tackle-breaks while also providing to be a top class fullback (124 metres per game).

Lewis accumulated 18 line-break assists and 17 try assists on his way to earning himself the Dally M Lock of the Year award, while Walsh’s 32 try assists made him a contender for Dally M Halfback of the Year.

Also, Penrith’s engine room was among the best in the NRL, with Civoniceva’s 139 metres and 23 tackles per game again leading the way for the team. Local props Grant  and McKendry proved a handful every week.

Coach Matt Elliott says… “Obviously I’m pleased about where we ended the season on the competition ladder, but I guess it’s probably too soon for me to feel like it was a success. The Canberra game was a disappointment for us. And the Roosters game, well, there wasn’t a real lot we could’ve done about that.

“I guess if you spoke to any coach, and regardless of the regular season, you get that far into the season and you obviously want to go there and compete at the back end. And we knew we had a team capable of doing that – but it just didn’t work out that way.”

Conclusion… Penrith’s second-place finish in regular time was a real achievement considering the evenness of the competition, and there was no doubt injuries played a huge role in their finals failure. The challenge now for Elliott, who’ never won a finals game as a coach, will be to take the Panthers further than the semi-finals in 2011, a feat not out of reach for a young and improving unit.