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For & Against: Panthers will go back-to-back in 2022

The Panthers have been a standout team of the past two seasons and put an exclamation mark on that run with a gripping grand final win over the Rabbitohs.

Given the age of their group, there's every reason to think Nathan Cleary and his mates could be on the verge of a dynasty, with Matt Burton and Kurt Capewell the only two members of Sunday's 17-man squad moving on next year.

History shows that winning back-to-back premierships is no easy task with the Roosters (2018-19) and Broncos (1992-93) the only teams to have achieved the feat in the past 30 years.

For & Against - Panthers will go back-to-back in 2022

For - senior journalist Paul Zalunardo

Moving grand final hero Stephen Crichton to his preferred position, having NSW representative Liam Martin play 80 minutes on an edge and putting Charlie Staines on the wing are the only changes the Panthers need to make to their best 13 in 2022. 

What a great position for the premiers to be in. 

Yes, the likes of Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell and Brent Naden won’t be there next year, but Penrith have ready-made replacements already on the books. 

Naden didn’t often feature in Penrith’s best 17 this year, and while he looms as a first-choice winger/centre for Canterbury next year, the premiers have Charlie Staines ready to be the new winger once Crichton moves into the centres. 

The biggest gap Penrith need to fill is covering for the versatility Burton offered in the backline. 

Match Highlights: Panthers v Rabbitohs

As well as winning the Dally M Centre of the Year award, the future Bulldog is equally as accomplished at both five-eighth and fullback. 

For both the Panthers and NSW Blues, Martin proved this year that’s he as good as they come as an edge forward who can also get the job done in the middle third. 

Capewell was a valuable member of the Panthers but having Martin and a fully-fit Viliame Kikau as second rowers won’t cause Ivan Cleary any sleepless nights. 

Youngster Izack Tago looks ready to step up into a bench role alongside Scott Sorensen. 

Aside from having readymade replacements for the departing trio, the Panthers are in rude health five months out from the start of their title defence. 

Crichton picks off a Walker pass and gets the Panthers into the lead

NSW halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai are scarily still both yet to reach their peak as footballers. 

Api Korisau stood up at the business end of the season and Dylan Edwards displayed a level of courage and competency during the finals that reminded everyone the No.1 jersey is his for as long as he wants it. 

That’s the spine and both of the edges well and truly taken care of. 

The middle forwards will all be back next year.  

Isaah Yeo will remain his ever-reliable self and James Fisher-Harris will continue as the forwards' leader. 

He's still my boy: Ivan reflects on his relationship with Nathan

Young prop Moses Leota and Spencer Leniu are now premiership winners and ready to continue their rise through the ranks. 

As is the case with any team, injuries to key players can quickly derail a season, but right now the Panthers as looking as likely as anyone to win the 2022 premiership. 

Melbourne, South Sydney, Manly and a fit-again Roosters side will have other ideas but it is pretty clear that Ivan Cleary’s men are going to take some beating. 

Will Penrith go back-to-back in 2022?

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Against - senior journalist Martin Lenehan

With Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo at the helm and their self-belief at an all-time high, the Panthers are an absolute special to finish top four again next year and challenge for the club's fourth premiership.

Even with classy centre Matt Burton, Origin back-rower Kurt Capewell and grand final 18th man Brent Naden moving on, the Panthers have ample talent at their disposal to carry on the brilliant work of 2020-21 which has seen them win 44 of their past 51 matches.

Make no mistake though, the task of defending their title will be a whole lot more demanding as they go from the hunters to the hunted and opponents come hard for Cleary from round one, giving his surgically repaired shoulder a stern examination week after gruelling week.

Get Caught Up: Must-see moments from the NRL grand final

Mid-season Origin commitments will again hit the premiers hard, with Cleary, Brian To'o, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo certain starters for the Blues and Stephen Crichton, Api Koroisau and Liam Martin sure to come into the mix.

Losses to Wests Tigers and the Sharks and the shoulder injury to their star playmaker were the price the Panthers paid in 2021 during Origin but they were good enough to recover and win nine of their last 10 matches heading into the finals, even though Cleary missed five of those games.

The weight of history and the weight of expectation will be against Penrith in 2022 and then there's the ever-present danger of the Storm and Sea Eagles, who fell just one game short of the decider this year.

Perennial finalists Melbourne have farewelled a very handy trio in Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes but countered that with the signings of Nick Meaney, Xavier Coates and Josh King.

There is no doubt Craig Bellamy faces a mighty challenge to have the new-look Storm outfit finishing top four for the eighth year in a row but such is their professionalism and commitment to excellence that they'll be there when the whips are cracking next September.

Heroic Rabbitohs: A disappointment, not a regret says Bennett

Also coming to get the Panthers will be Des Hasler's Sea Eagles, whose free-flowing style of footy filled endless highlight reels in 2021, most featuring Dally M Medal winner Tom Trbojevic.

End-of-season report card: Sea Eagles

Given a fair shake with injuries the Roosters also loom as a leading contender next season, with the versatile Connor Watson bolstering a star studded squad led by James Tedesco, Sam Walker, Joey Manu and Luke Keary.

Already a three-time premiership winner, Keary played just three games in 2021 before tearing his ACL, and his return to the halves will ensure the Roosters are right in the mix next year.

Beaten grand finalists Souths will be driven by the same hunger that carried Penrith to the top of the mountain this year and Clint Gutherson's Eels are probably still burning from a narrow and controversial loss to the eventual premiers in week two of the finals.

The fact only two sides have been able to win back-to-back premierships in the past 30 years shows just how daunting the task is for Penrith.

They face challenges galore and challengers galore if they are to defend the crown they fought so hard to win in an epic showdown with the Rabbitohs.


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.


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