5 reasons the Panthers can win in 2014
They may have a few new faces in their squad, but the Panthers are coming off their most stable season in recent memory. For the first time in a long time there were no shake-ups in the front office, no question marks over the head coach, and no unrest among their senior playing group.
Consistency breeds confidence and, judging on last year's results – Ivan Cleary's side finished just one win short of a finals spot – there's no doubting that there's a lot of self-belief permeating from the foot of the mountains.
Penrith general manager Phil Gould was extremely active in the marketplace last season, spending much of his cap that had previously been tied to the likes of Petero Civoniceva, Luke Lewis, Michael Jennings, Lachlan Coote and Michael Gordon.
In their place is the experienced trio of Brent Kite, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace, the rising talents of Tyrone Peachey, Elijah Taylor and Kevin Naiqama, and the pure natural ability of Jamal Idris.
It's quite possible that all seven could feature in Ivan Cleary's line-up for their season-opener against Newcastle.
3. Lower grade success
The Panthers featured in two of the three deciders on Grand Final Day in 2013.
Led by young talents Matt Moylan, Sam Anderson and Eto Nabuli, their NSW Cup feeder side Windsor Wolves fell at the final hurdle to heavyweights Cronulla. This season, the Panthers have regained control of their own reserve grade side, and will play a number of games as the curtain-raiser to their NRL team at Centrebet Stadium.
Their premiership-winning Holden Cup side, who were victorious over perennial heavyweights the Warriors, featured some of the hottest prospects in the under-20s including Dalline Watene-Zelezniak, George Jennings, the NRL-experienced James Roberts and Holden Cup Player of the Year Bryce Cartwright.
While it doesn't necessarily translate to first-grade success, the Panthers' flourishing teams in the lower grades at the very least shows the level of depth at the club.
At first glance, the signing of halves pairing Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace might seem a desperate attempt to resurrect the careers of a couple of players deemed well past their best.
But at second look, the experience and leadership provided by two former NSW Origin playmakers is key for a rising team in need of some veteran heads.
Soward entered last season with one of the best kicking games in the competition, but finished the year in a team at the bottom of the Super League competition. Similarly, Wallace began 2013 as Brisbane's first-choice halfback, but was reduced to a utility role by the time the Origin period arrived.
Both players will have fresh starts at their new club but both will also have points to prove, and the Panthers are hoping those ingredients will have the team cooking straight off the bat.
5. Phil Gould
The Panthers are now into Year Three of Gus Gould's five-year plan, which means the rebuilding phase is over and the real upswing is about to begin. Whether or not you're a fan of the Channel Nine commentator, you can't argue that the Panthers have improved steadily under his tenure both on and off the field. From the top to the bottom, Gould has every Panthers employee beating to his drum, and the more the club builds, and one gets the feeling success is at the end of the song.