Panthers' Road to the Finals
New-look Panthers get off to solid start
Penrith planned their campaign to continue deep into September so they stacked the depth chart with more than a dozen off-season signings and fielded five of them, as well as one rookie, for their season-opener against Newcastle. Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Brent Kite, Elijah Taylor and Tyrone Peachey all enjoyed solid hit-outs in their first start in Panthers colours, while youngster Isaah Yeo made his NRL debut for injured late-comer Jamal Idris. The steamy Sunday in March proved too hot for the Knights, who led at half-time but were brought undone by an injury toll that left them with one man on the bench, giving Penrith the good start they needed.
Moylan nails game-winner(s)
Last year he was the face of the problematic second tier salary cap, but it didn't take long for late-blooming fullback Matt Moylan to become the newest prince of Penrith after single-handedly winning games off his own boot. Put it this way, if we were playing basketball, the cool-headed 23-year-old would be called Mr Fourth Quarter, and ASADA would be checking for ice in his veins. Despite being flanked by experienced campaigners in Soward and Wallace, the second-year pro was the man to nail a sideline conversion after the siren against the Bulldogs in Round 3, before repeating his late-game heroics with clutch field goals against Brisbane in Round 18, and the Cowboys in Round 23, earning himself a million-dollar extension with the club.
Another junior announces exit
This was Phil Gould in late March, when rumours were rife local junior Tim Grant was headed to Redfern: "It is my hope and I'm sure Tim's hope, that he gets to play many more years with the Panthers, and that would be the best result for all concerned." Three weeks later Grant announced he was moving to South Sydney at the end of the season, following big-name juniors Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings out the door and leaving teammate Sam McKendry and Nigel Plum as the only players left from the pre-Gould era.
Penrith finally go back-to-back
The first two months of the season brought neither consecutive victories nor back-to-back losses for the Panthers, but they returned from a two-week road trip with two hard fought away wins first in the Hunter, and then in the nation's capital. In hindsight they didn't exactly bring down the game's heavyweights, but it proved to be the kick start they needed as the surprise packets went on a five-game run that put the Panthers neatly in the top eight for the rest of the season.
Idris granted personal leave by club
Just as the runaway Titan was beginning to cosy himself at the foot of the mountains to the point of being on the verge of what would've been a stunning NSW Origin recall, Jamal Idris was granted a personal leave of absence by the club after returning late to training following the Round 11 bye weekend up at Byron Bay. It was later revealed the 23-year-old was battling depression, but after spending a month away from the club, Idris made a low-key return in Penrith's Round 16 loss to the Warriors and proceeded to play in every game since.
Origin-less Panthers surge during rep period
When NSW coach Laurie Daley named his team for Game I after the close of Round 10, the Panthers were entrenched in the top four alongside the ladder-leading Bulldogs, Sea Eagles and Eels. By the time the Blues raised the shield in before Round 18 kicked off, Penrith, who had no representatives during the interstate series, were the ones enjoying the penthouse view at the top of the competition. Meanwhile the Origin-affected Bulldogs were in the middle of a freefall, and Jarryd Hayne-led Eels had just about fallen off the face of the NRL planet.
Casualty ward hits double figures
The Panthers had won seven of eight when they suffered back-to-back losses to the Roosters in Round 19 and to the Sharks in Bathurst in Round 20. But if having their tires popped in central-western NSW was bad enough, then losing skipper Peter Wallace and boom rookie Bryce Cartwright for the rest of the year stung even more. Problem was the growing list of casualties didn't end there. Having already had Tyrone Peachey and Isaac John on the season-over list, the Panthers' torrid run with injuries went on to claim David Simmons, Elijah Taylor and Isaah Yeo. They also lost Brent Kite, Jeremy Latimore, Adam Docker and James Segeyaro at various moments too.
NSW Cup team snare minor prize in July
In a testament to their incredible depth and cast of young talent, the Panthers snared the NSW Cup minor premiership with more than a month to go in the competition. With experienced first-graders Kevin Kingston, David Simmons, Tim Grant leading the way and young guns Dallin Watene Zelezniak, Kierran Moseley, Reagan Campbell Gillard and Waqa Blake showing plenty of promise, Penrith recovered from an 0-2 start to the season to win 14 of their next 15 game and seal top spot. Their good form was rewarded late in the year as a third of the team received call-ups to the NRL due to injuries.
Mature Soward revels as skipper
First Kevin Kingston was demoted, then Peter Wallace suffered an ACL injury, then Brent Kite got bitten by the injury-bug too. So it was left to none other than reborn playmaker Jamie Soward to steer the Panthers in the business end, and the 2010 premiership-winning Dragon responded with a mammoth final month of football that included a five-star outing against the Cowboys in Round 23, where he scored two tries and set up two more. After an inglorious departure from the Red V, Soward was deemed by many as the buy of the season.
Penrith clinch fourth spot in final game
Having watched two teams jump them in the last round of the regular season, Penrith outclassed a disappointing Warriors outfit in the final game to reclaim their spot in the top four and ensure they had two bites at the premiership cherry. In front of a packed house on a Sunday night, it was again their main man in Moylan that ripped the carpet from beneath the Warriors with another poised performance in attack and defence.