Fit Panthers to contend again: Segeyaro
A claw of Panthers walked into Penrith plaza on Thursday spreading their Christmas cheer with a simple message for the rest of the competition: We're going to be up there again.
As players showed up at the shopping mall this week to pay for the groceries of a number of the locals, hooker James Segeyaro couldn't mask his pre-season motivation.
The mountain men were missing half a dozen regulars when they went down fighting in a preliminary final defeat to the 2014 runners-up the Bulldogs last September, and the result has been pushing the Panthers livewire through the entire pre-season.
"I didn't really actually realise how close [we were]. I just got caught up and didn't actually realise until the break came, took a backward step, and realised we were one more game from the big thing. It's more motivation to keep going," Segeyaro said.
Aside from the recruitment of premiership dummy-half Apisai Koroisau from South Sydney, the Panthers remain one of the few teams that haven't stuck their hand into the honey pot of free agents over the summer.
Instead, they will rely on the return to full health of skipper and halfback Peter Wallace, boom second-rowers Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, and hard-working lock Elijah Taylor.
And that familiarity was enough for Segeyaro to be confident in his team joining the competition's elite.
"Put it this way – we're going to be up there with the favourites, seeing how far we've gone, and especially if [Wallace] is right for Round 1, as well as 'ET' [Taylor] and the rest of the blokes we had injured," he said.
"[The familiarity] can work either way, but with us it's going to work real good because everyone knows the plays. We've only had a four-week pre-season before Chrissy, [but] everyone's clicking straight away. When we come to touching the ball, everyone knows their job."
Taylor, who said he and Wallace were on track to return from their ACL injuries in time for at least one trial game, said their absence from the team's premiership assault this year was "fuel to the fire" for next season.
"It was really tough, really tough to watch, especially with Peter Wallace next to me, and Bryce Cartwright, Tyrone Peachey – a lot of boys were out," he said.
"But it's fuel for the fire, for us this year. We just can't wait to get back out there and represent the Panthers and play our best football."
The former Warrior was also positive of Penrith's chances next year.
"Every season you want to be confident. You train hard in the pre-season to give yourself the best opportunity. There's no reason why we can't reach those heights again. But we've got to start over, lay the foundation in pre-season, work hard, train hard, build respect, earn respect and the rest will take care of itself."