Panthers reflect on successful year
As much as they'd love to be preparing for a grand final rather than Mad Monday, Penrith's captain and coach say 2014 was a definite success with plenty of positives ahead of 2015.
Penrith looked very much a club in transition heading into 2014, with two new halves in Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace – and both were slightly risky signings on paper despite the fact each had played Origin, with their recent form more patchy.
They also had a number of up-and-coming youngsters who looked a few years short of being moulded into a genuinely threatening unit, plus they were coming off a 10th-place finish in 2013 with plenty of people tipping them to miss the finals this year.
And yet the men from the foot of the mountains finished fourth in the regular season and came up just short of a grand final berth.
"It's been a great success, no doubt about it," coach Ivan Cleary said after his side's gutsy 18-12 preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
"We'll be much better for it. A lot of the guys, the experience they've gone through."
Cleary also made mention of the club's massive injury toll, which included regular first graders such as halfback Peter Wallace and talented back-rowers Elijah Taylor, Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey over most of the final eight weeks of the season.
"Obviously we've had a lot of talent that hasn't been on show in the last eight weeks that will be there next year as well.
"[This year was] definitely a step in the right direction, we have the fans in the community have re-engaged with the club, and that's a good thing. We've made grand finals in 16s, 17s, NSW Cup and we were close in the NRL as well so all in all it's been a good year for the club."
A philosophical Cleary said 2014 "was just not quite our time yet".
Soward added the year had been "massive for the club".
"We've engaged our supporter base, [built] memberships, we've got young talent coming through so that's all positive for us," he said.
"If you had said at the start of the year we'd be top four and playing a [preliminary final] I think most people would be surprised by that. Internally we've worked hard. We've set ourselves standards there that we want to build on for next year when we get everyone back."