Penrith's future in good hands: Ciraldo
Penrith's quest for back-to-back Holden Cup premierships fell agonisingly short on Sunday afternoon as the defending champions squandered a seemingly unassailable half-time lead to fall 30-28 to the Roosters.
It was a cruel way for the Panthers to end what had been a near faultless 24-month campaign that saw them secure the past two minor premierships as well as victory in the 2015 NYC grand final.
Central to the success has been their coach, Cameron Ciraldo, and while he is set to become an NRL assistant coach at the club next season, he is confident his young troops can bounce back from the defeat to forge lengthy careers in the top grade.
"It's sad because we're a really tight group," he said after the game.
"There are wonderful kids there. It's really good that a lot of them are going to stay involved in Penrith. It's disappointing for an age group that they finished like that, but hopefully they'll all kick on now.
"My job is to get them ready for first grade and I think through all their hard work there are a lot who are on the path to first grade. That's the pleasing thing. Today is going to be hard to swallow but that's footy.
"They tried really hard all year and they didn't deserve for it to end like that."
While it was hard to stomach Sunday's loss, Ciraldo said the future was in the hands of the playing group who he believes have the talent to succeed.
"It's hard to say, but they've all got a chance," he said.
"They're all in the system; it's just going to be who works the hardest now. If they keep doing what they're doing then hopefully they'll get opportunities down the track. I can't say how many [will make it], it's up to them."
Ahead by 22 points at the break, it looked like the Panthers would romp home for their third premiership in four seasons, but for the second week in a row, the Roosters stormed home in the second stanza to stun the defending champs.
According to Ciraldo, the Tricolours' momentum was impossible to stall.
"We were going alright but we knew they weren't going to go away," the Panthers coach said.
"They came back from 14-nil last week so we knew they were a tough team when they've got nothing to lose because they've got tough players.
"We knew we weren't going to get any 50-50 calls. Everything we knew was going to happen, happened. There's nothing you can do about it now.
"Straight out after half-time they got that offload that went to them and we never touched the ball for I think seven minutes. We had three sets in the first 20 minutes of the second half so we just had to do too much defence and the Roosters had all the possession.
"Obviously they had nothing to lose so they had lots of offloads and they played really well so they deserved to win."
The Panthers had one late chance to level things up to possibly send the game into extra time, but fullback Dylan Edwards pushed his penalty goal wide with five minutes remaining.
It was a bitter way for the Junior Kangaroos fullback to end his season, but Ciraldo said it was a moment that would not define the future NRL star.
"He's got way more ahead in his career," Ciraldo predicted.
"That's not the reason we lost. There was plenty going on before that. He's got a long career ahead of him, Dylan – he's already played one first grade game – so hopefully he can kick on and play a few more now.
"I'm glad he backed himself, and so he should."