How Good Is... Matt Moylan
When Penrith let talented fullbacks Michael Gordon and Lachlan Coote leave the club in successive seasons a couple of years ago, they were putting a fair bit of pressure on new rookie custodian Matt Moylan. But the Panthers knew they had a gem on their hands.
First grabbing NRL.com's attention way back in 2011, when he engineered a shock win for Penrith against the high-flying Storm in the under-20s competition, Moylan has more than lived up to expectations so far in his two seasons in the NRL – taking out his club's Rookie of the Year gong in 2013 before being one of the stars of the Panthers' top-four finish in 2014.
While there are plenty of young guns in the NRL with obvious athletic talents, what makes Moylan stand out is his natural feel for the game, whether it's creating try-scoring chances in attack or shutting them down in defence.
What made 2014 so special?
In an era of great fullbacks – and after a season dominated by Jarryd Hayne's heroics – Moylan still rated amongst the very best No.1s in the competition in 2014. The 23-year-old was ranked first among fullbacks for offloads, second for tackles and possessions, third for try assists and line-break assists, fourth for line breaks and fifth for try saves. His combination with Penrith playmaker Jamie Soward was particularly effective.
Despite that impressive stat line it was Moylan's coolness under pressure that really catapulted him into the limelight. After kicking a match-winning last-minute sideline conversion to sink the Bulldogs in March (despite only being his team's third-choice goalkicker), Moylan twice landed crucial field goals in one-point wins over Brisbane and the Cowboys.
The clutch-play specialist also dominated games on his own, scoring once and setting up three more tries in a thrashing of the Wests Tigers in July as the Panthers were riding high on top of the table.
He thrived in his first taste of rep football as well, being named City Origin's players' player against Country in May, and then played his way into Australia's Four Nations squad after impressing Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens with a strong performance for the Prime Minister's XIII in October.
How can he be better in 2015?
Coach Ivan Cleary reckons his young gun has plenty of improvement left in him, saying during the season he wasn't sure just how good the young fullback could get. One thing that will test the confident youngster is the responsibility of playing with a new level of expectation; no longer an unknown prospect, Moylan will now be a key target for opposition sides and Penrith fans will expect him to at least match last year's performances in the new season.
And then there's Origin. Moylan might not have been used by the Kangaroos in the Four Nations, but with Hayne now in the USA the young Panther could get his chance on the big stage for NSW by the time the next State of Origin series swings around – which would bring a whole new level of pressure. Young guns have been thrown into the Origin cauldron too soon before, and a poor Origin campaign could halt Moylan's progress in its tracks – but if the Penrith prodigy can excel on the game's biggest stage then who knows how far he can go.