The Panthers' 3 biggest games of 2014
Panthers v Eels
In recent years, the 'Battle of the West' has been dubbed the 'Battle for the Spoon', such is the dire predicament facing both of these stragglers. Still, the fight to win the hearts of Sydney's west, combined with rugby league's united front against other new sporting frontiers, means this local derby will always hold some level of intrigue especially for the locals.
The Panthers have won five of their past six and seven of their last 10 against the back-to-back wooden spooners, including a two-game sweep in 2013. But while the mountain men have enjoyed some recent success over their neighbours, the all-time count is still heavily skewed towards Parramatta by a 53-34 margin.
Roster-wise, Tom Humble, Kevin Kingston and Joseph Paulo have all spent time in either camp at some point in their career. One final interesting fact: a field goal has been kicked in four of their past five matches. Time to get on it?
Panthers v Sharks
No secret why this is slated to be a sure-fire grudge match. Not only did both clubs enter the competition in the same year (1967), but both are littered with former players who've made big impressions with their new club.
Penrith's veteran duo of Kevin Kingston and David Simmons both kicked off their careers in the Shire, while Sharks pair Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon departed western Sydney in controversial circumstances.
Panthers fans in particular might still have a bone to pick with their former skipper, who was deprived of a farewell match in Penrith due to a neck injury. Lewis and Gordon helped put a nail in their former club's unlikely charge to the finals last season, scoring a 38-19 win in their only meeting in Cronulla.
In fact, the two sides have split their past 10 games evenly, although the Sharks have won three of their past four. This match-up has had a habit of going down to the wire as well, with two of their past three clashes have been decided by a point.
Panthers v Knights
They might not be fierce rivals, but a loss at home against Newcastle in Round 19 last season was the beginning of a four-game losing streak that saw Penrith's finals hopes dive. But the miserable defeat isn't the sole reason why their 2014 clash is significant.
Since the NRL's inception in 1998, Penrith have lost 17 of 24 against Newcastle – easily their worst record against any team in that period. Furthermore, the Knights have won their past five games against Penrith, and have held them to below 14 points or less on six straight occasions.
The Panthers are meant to be a team on the rise this year, but you get the feeling a litmus test could come against the Novocastrians, who enjoyed the services of Penrith's 2003 premiership-winning captain Craig Gower last season.
Check back on NRL.com on Wednesday for details of your team's schedule with the release of the 2014 NRL Draw.