Penrith no longer NRL battlers: Moylan
They were the 2014 fairytale story that failed to come true, but Penrith star Matt Moylan has declared his team won't be treated like ugly ducklings anymore.
The second-year pro had barely digested their preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday when he already begun planning life next season as premiership force.
At the very least, he says, they'll no longer be considered the perennial NRL battlers who weren't given a hope in March.
"We'll definitely be pegged next year as a team that can get into that top four again. I think we've proved that this year that we can play consistent footy and we'll have to look to back it up next year," he said.
"The way we performed with a lot of our roster out, and a lot of our experienced players out, I think the competition will definitely look at us a bit differently.
"We probably were seen as a good team, but not challenging for the trophy. But we definitely proved that we've got the ability and talent in our squad to fight and be up there come finals time."
Having defied the naysayers all season – particularly in the finals – Moylan admitted the September pressure had finally got to the Panthers, whose nervous start allowed the Bulldogs to set up an early 12-0 lead.
"We made a few too many mistakes down their end, even our end, that probably aren't normal for us. I think there could've been a bit of finals pressure that got us, but that comes in games," Moylan said.
"It wasn't so much a nervous start – I think we were just too excited. We were a bit erratic out there. We just didn't settle into the game well. It took us about 20 minutes before we really settled down."
But by then they were staring at a two-try deficit.
A try to Moylan just minutes before halftime, as well as a game-ending foot injury to Canterbury skipper Michael Ennis, gave Penrith a much-needed boost, but they failed to convert their good field position in the second half into points.
"At stages, I thought we had it," Moylan said.
"When we came in at 12-6, we finished off the first half really well. And our first set in the second half there, we made a bit of inroads where we finished down in their half. But they just dug deep and hung in there the whole game and ended up taking the win."
The 23-year-old said he and the rest of his inexperienced team-mates had learnt a lot from Penrith's unlikely finals run that continued their renaissance as a club.
"It was the second game for a lot of us in finals footy, so the experience that we'll take out of this going into next year is definitely something good," he said.
"Obviously it's disappointing to bow out in the semis, this close to a grand final. But going forward, it'll only help us and the club moving forward."