Disappointed Panthers have great expectations
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Charles Dickens probably wasn't thinking about the Penrith Panthers when he wrote his classic A Tale of Two Cities, but nearly 150 years after it was published, his words still ring true.
The Panthers will look back at their season-ending 22-12 loss to the Canberra Raiders with plenty of despair, but given where they were three months ago, there is nothing to be ashamed of.
They weren't at their best on Saturday night, falling behind 18-0 early in the second half before clawing their way back into the contest to get within a converted try.
Ill-discipline and errors ultimately cost them in the end, and according to their coach Anthony Griffin, that was the most disappointing takeaway from the game.
"You never like saying it, but we beat ourselves tonight," he conceded.
"18 [points] was always going to be hard to run down and at the backend of the first half the last five sets were incomplete and the try inside the last 10 minutes before half-time and then the one straight after half-time, we were up against it then.
"It really hurts, the players are hurting and unfortunately we put ourselves in that position."
As difficult as that period was, the Panthers managed to stay in the contest and remarkably drew within six points of the Raiders after back-to-back tries to Tyrone Peachey and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
With momentum at their backs, Penrith pressed for the levelling try but were denied by a stray offload. From there, Canberra were piggybacked downfield by a penalty before putting the game out of a reach with a pair of Jarrod Croker penalty goals.
"We needed some possession and once we got to 18-12 I think we had one shot and then we gave away a penalty and we spent the next 10 minutes defending our line," Griffin said.
"I thought if we got three or four sets then we were going to score because they were really wobbling in defence and we were ready to take our chance.
"Everyone saw the way it finished. Unfortunately we gave away a couple of silly penalties and spent the rest of the game defending our line."
Given their start to the year, the ever-changing roster and a general lack of big-game experience, most pundits gave the Panthers little chance of doing much damage in 2016.
But through Griffin's astute decision making, the chocolate soldiers turned it around in the second half of the season to go within two wins of a spot in the grand final.
Clearly stung by Saturday night's result, Griffin refused to sum up his side's year, telling the media that now wasn't the time for post-mortems.
"I don't like looking back right now because we've got a lot of disappointment about tonight,' he said.
"The players and the club and everyone can be proud of the team we've got and the performances we're putting in."
Panthers skipper Matt Moylan was ultimately pleased with what his troops achieved in 2016, but admitted he was disappointed with how they ended their season.
"I think we definitely developed from the start of the year. A lot of the guys matured from the start of the season and I think that's a good thing to take into next season,' he said.
"The way we finished it tonight wasn't what we spoke about throughout the week. We didn't execute it tonight so it's a disappointing finish."
With 18-year-old Nathan Cleary steering the ship at halfback, and fellow rookie Te Maire Martin set to slot into first grade next year, the future in Penrith looks bright.
Add in the recruitment of NSW Blues forward James Tamou and the continued development of players like James Fisher-Harris, and the Panthers skipper said he was excited for the year ahead.
"I think we're heading in the right direction. The players coming through, everyone's confident," Moylan said.
"We've had some good experiences and we've got good experience coming to the club next year as well. It's a step forward but we're going to have work hard in the off-season and use this as motivation to get back to the finals."
Their year might be done, but as Dickens said, while it may be the winter of despair, it can also be the spring of hope.
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