Penrith showed plenty of promise last season but ultimately let themselves down in the finals for never being able to solve their problem of starting matches slowly, according to winger Josh Mansour.
It was a trend which they often overcame but they fell one point short of defeating Cronulla in the second week of the finals after again allowing their opponents to dominate the first half, shattering their hopes of a shot at the Telstra Premiership title.
Their slow start trend was just one of their worries with coaching dramas also becoming a burden as the season wore on – resulting in the sacking of Anthony Griffin just four weeks out from finals.
Injures played their part throughout the year as well, but the disruption had a positive effect with the emergence of some youngsters like Jarome Luai, Sione Katoa and Moses Leota, who more than held their own in the absence of key players.
The club farewelled Corey Harawira-Naera (Bulldogs), Christian Crichton (Bulldogs), Tyrone Peachey (Titans), Peter Wallace (retired), Tim Browne (retired) and Corey Waddell (Sea Eagles), while welcoming Tim Grant and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak from the Wests Tigers and Tyrell Fuimaono from the Rabbitohs.
Penrith Panthers: 2018 by the numbers
"We let ourselves down at the end [of the season], we did have a good year but to us it was a failure," Mansour told NRL.com.
"In saying that there are still a lot of things we took out of last season – we learned a lot as a team, the culture of the club is in a really good spot now and we just want to keep growing not just as a team but as individuals as well.
"We all know the potential we have as a team. We want to one day hopefully win a premiership together."
Best finishes of 2018: Panthers come back from the dead
Home and away record
8-4 home, 7-5 away
The Panthers may have won two more away games than last year after coming away with seven wins and five losses in 2018, but their average of 23.3 points conceded in unfamiliar territory proved their defence wasn't as sharp as it was playing in front of a home crowd, having only conceded an average of 15.1 points at Panthers Stadium – resulting in eight wins and four losses.
Leading try scorers
On average Penrith score a try every 23.41 minutes and it was centre Waqa Blake who topped their leaderboard after getting the ball over the stripe nine times throughout the season – the side will expect the same from the 23-year-old for next few year after he re-signed with the club until the end of 2023. Utility Tyrone Peachey was second with nine tries followed by Mansour on eight.
Post-contact metres per game
It's no surprise powerhouse forward Viliame Kikau led the club for the most post-contact metres per game, averaging 54.4 metres – just short of the Telstra Premiership's top 10. Aaron Woods was 10th on the list after averaging 54.7 during his stints with Canterbury and Cronulla.
Try scoring – attacking channels
The Panthers' slow starts in 2018 resulted in 39% of their tries being scored in last 20 minutes of matches. Their top try scorers in Blake (12), Peachey (9) and Mansour (8) were potent down the left and centre-left channels where 55% of their tries were scored.
"The biggest thing we got out of this season was we built a lot of chemistry, especially with Viliame there, Waqa," Mansour said.
"Our left edge in general started clicking well at the back end of the year. Preferably we'd like to keep the left edge as it is. If we can keep playing the way those boys have been playing it's looking to be a good year for us in 2019."
Tries conceded – defending channels
They look for him in attack to lead the team around the park, but not so much in defence considering skipper James Maloney led the side for the most try causes with 20. Maloney and his players on the left side will need to pick up their defence in 2019 with 47% of tries conceded down the left or centre-left channels as opposed to 36% of tries let in on the right or centre-right channels.
"We were always confident in scoring points but to win the premiership you've got to be a good defensive and attacking side and that's one of the things we've got to work on during the pre-season," Mansour said.
Tries conceded from penalties
The Panthers didn't have any issues putting points on the board but down the other end they weren't able to absorb the pressure on their line as well as the top-four teams, ranking fifth overall for most tries conceded following penalties (36). Peachey led the penalty count for Penrith after being pinged 25 times.
Metres gained from offloads
The Panthers cranked up 297 offloads with an effective percentage rate of 94%. They ranked fifth for most metres gained from offloads (1723.4), while Kikau was the frontrunner among the squad – collecting 269.4 metres.
Kicking a total of 92 goals out of 113 attempts placed Penrith fourth in the NRL behind the Bulldogs, Broncos and Storm. Maloney converted 30 goals from 38 attempts and 23 penalty goals from as many attempts, while Cleary slotted 27 conversions out of 36 attempts and only missed one of his five shots at a penalty goal.
Running metres by position
Penrith tallied the most metres from halfback (2072m) and the second-most metres from five-eighth (2141m) – this workload was spread across Maloney, Cleary and Peachey. Maloney's biggest running game was against Gold Coast in round six when he registered 211 running metres at halfback and in the same game Peachey who was five-eighth reached his highest running metres in the position (196), while Cleary hit a top of 135 running metres in round 24 against the Parramatta Eels at halfback.
Missed tackles and line breaks conceded
It's no secret it wasn't the best defensive year for the Panthers who were better than only the Wests Tigers for most tackles missed, conceding 37.8 per game while also allowing an average of 3.7 line breaks. Maloney was the worst offender, averaging 7.5, which was way ahead of the next player on the list, James Fisher-Harris (3.5).