Our pre-season goal was top four: Moylan
They hadn't so much whiffed the sweet aroma of September football in four years, let alone come close to playing it, but Penrith have made good on a pre-season goal to finish in the NRL's coveted top four after downing the Warriors 22-6 in the final game of the regular season on Sunday night.
The last time Penrith were invited onto the NRL's big stage was in 2010, when they fluffed a second-place finish with straight-set defeats to Canberra and then the Roosters. In fact, the Panthers haven't won a finals game in almost a decade.
But the competition's biggest improvers return to the finals next week when they start as underdogs in a qualifying final against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.
It's the type of Finals Week 1 scenario that would've had people seriously questioning your analysis had you predicted it in February – but Panthers fullback Matt Moylan revealed it was indeed what they were aiming for in the summer.
"Coming into the season we had a weekend away and we spoke about where we wanted to finish and top four was our goal," he said.
"And it's good to achieve it. With the amount of injuries and a couple of suspensions in the last few weeks it made our job a bit tougher, but everyone that's stepped into their role has done a job for us.”
The hottest fullback in the game once again ensured his highlights reel package will come in a box set this year after another starring performance in last Sunday night's win, scoring a try and setting up the other three.
He didn't take long to unlock the Warriors defence, breaking into the backfield with a quick-tap in the 7th minute that set up a try for James Segeyaro one tackle later.
He put teenage winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for a play-one try off a scrum in the 16th, before slicing through for a four-pointer himself in the 38th.
The second-year pro sealed the victory – and a spot in the finals – with a grubber for Watene-Zelezniak in the 74th, completing another match-winning performance for the cool-headed No. 1.
Coach Ivan Cleary described Moylan's outing as "almost faultless", before also praising his wing pair of Josh Mansour and Watene-Zelezniak.
"[Moylan's] going really well. Almost faultless really, tonight," he said.
"And that's what you want from your fullback in these sorts of games. Any errors from the back three really hurt in those types of games, in pretty tricky conditions. And I thought we did a good job."
Cleary was chuffed with his team's post-season standing alongside the powerhouse clubs in the NRL penthouse.
"I guess 18 months ago we were everyone's favourite to run last and we scratched our way up to 10th spot last year. And then this year we just wanted to get better," he said.
"An obvious one there I suppose was to try and sneak into the eight. We've done that, and gone a bit better. Obviously I'm very proud of the whole club, everyone involved. It's a pretty good achievement.
"To be in the top four with Souths, Manly and the Roosters, and only one game behind the top spot... it's been a pretty good season so far."