Segeyaro still burning after prelim loss
Almost every Penrith player did their best this week to avoid calling this Sunday's preliminary final re-match against the Bulldogs a revenge game.
Five-eighth Jamie Soward said it's "for the fans and media to talk about". Halfback Peter Wallace admitted there was a bit of rivalry there, "but nothing more than any other team would bring".
And hooker James Segeyaro didn't want to call it a revenge game either.
"[But] to tell you the truth," he said, "I still got a bit of a fire burning inside of me of how we ended up losing last year in the prelims."
That was more like it.
"But they were the better team at the end. We can go out this Sunday and prove a point to ourselves, give the fans something to cheer about, and get onto a good start," he added.
A third of their starting line-up was sitting on the sidelines when the Bulldogs ruined Penrith's fairytale run through the finals.
And it didn't get much better after the season, when Jamal Idris (spine), Jamie Soward (ankle), Josh Mansour (shoulder), Nigel Plum (ankle) and James Segeyaro (ankle) spent most of the summer licking their wounds after off-season surgery.
They joined Peter Wallace (ACL), Elijah Taylor (ACL), Tyrone Peachey (pec) and Bryce Cartwright (ankle), who all missed the finals after season-ending injuries.
In fact, not even four months was long enough for Plum and Mansour, who remain sidelined and have forced coach Ivan Cleary to lay out the roughest of all welcome mats to two rookies in George Jennings and Reagan Campbell-Gillard when the 2014 grand finalists arrive in Penrith on Sunday.
"I don't know if underdone's the word. Obviously it hasn't been the ideal preparation [with] the amount of people that have had surgery and people coming back at different times," Wallace said.
"It's just the way it is this year. Can't do anything about it. Just get out there and put the best performance we can. Preparation-wise, we've done everything we could do – the boys coming back. I don't think there's going to be any excuses. Come Sunday we'll be ready to go."
Soward said the media would "make more of it than we will", and was more concerned about his team getting off to a good start after splitting their opening eight games last year.
"You look at the teams that have won the comp the last couple of years, they started really well and got points in the bank early. For us, we were 4-4 and scratching around for wins," he said.
"We need to start the year fast, and I guess with the expectation, you want to get off to a good start."
After opening the season at home against the Bulldogs, the Panthers will "host" Gold Coast in Bathurst before a brutal month that includes games against the Roosters, Knights, Cowboys and Sea Eagles.