The Panthers are prowling
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art
Since scoring twenty straight unanswered points in the second half of last season’s Grand Final only to lose by just a converted try to Melbourne, Penrith has won an astonishing 14 of their last 16 games. They were victorious in their sole pre-season trial against the Eels posting a score-line of 16-6, while they are also in 2nd place with a commanding 13 and 2 record. Their PD of +311 also 2nd behind the storm.
During the COVID shortened 2020 season the Panthers won 18 of their 20 regular-season games as they set the Rugby League world alight with their simply scintillating brand of Football. And they look hell-bent on one-upping their miraculous achievements of the last campaign into the current one.
Part of winning games is the ability to come up with crucial points at any given moment in a game and Ivan Cleary’s side excels in that area. Last season they scored 25+ points on eleven occasions. This includes a RD9 demolition job of the Sharks in which they were vigorous in winning 56-24. They put up 10 tries creating an electric atmosphere in Kogarah. Then just three matches later they travelled to Lottoland smashing Manly 42-12. Charlie Staines lit up the Northern Beaches with a first-half double. Then finally who could forget their trip to Stadium Australia (formerly ANZ)? Where they crossed the line eight times and thoroughly pumped Canterbury 42-0!
That destructive path has only carried on into this season. Some of their biggest victories saw them win their opening two games of the season 24-0 and 28-0 against North Queensland and Canterbury respectively. Then in RD’s 4 & 5, they posted a 40-point win against Manly and a 20-point win against Canberra. Finally, in May it was ALL PANTHERS as they beat Cronulla 48-0, and the Gold Coast 48-12 in Brisbane. They also did over South Sydney 56-12 in Dubbo and the Bulldogs 30-4. They’ve sputtered a little bit in June with losses to the Sharks and West Tigers
Youth has been a key part of it! This season the Panthers try-scoring list is topped by Staines with 10 four-pointers. Then there’s Matt Burton with nine and should be Dally-M Medallist Nathan Cleary with seven. Brian To’o also has six to his name. They are ages 20, 21, 23 and 22 respectively. They’ve all shown that it doesn’t matter what age you are, if you can play … then you can play.
But they’re not the only ones helping to pile the misery onto the opposition, Jarome Luai has been nothing short of sensational this campaign as the Toa Samoa international has 14 try assists to his name. That leads the competition and just for some context is more than the likes of DCE and RTS combined (13). Stephen Crichton also has six.
While outside of those two, Cleary is in there with seven as well. He has been one of the driving forces behind Penrith’s recent resurgence into an NRL powerhouse. Just two years ago Penrith finished 10th and since the year 2000 they’ve missed out on playing Finals Footy on 12 different occasions. However, the Sydney born Halfback has turned his side from an afterthought into world-beaters with his creative and passionate style of playmaking. He’s a constant selection for the Blues and somebody who can carry a team on his back to a win.
Not only that but he also has an extremely high Footy IQ. He has the ability to change what he’s going to do mid-play and despite his age, he comes up with different styles and varying tactics for each team which keeps them constantly guessing. You can point to countless examples that display his utter brilliance and players such as himself are the future of Rugby League without a doubt.
Obviously, points are behind every big result, but so is defence and the Panthers have countless guys who put their bodies on the line for them week-in week-out and those lads are just as important, if not more so than those who score the tries and create the attacking chances. Names that come to mind include Isaah Yeo, James Fisher-Harris, Mitch Kenny, Matthew Eisenhuth and Kurt Capewell.
Those five lads on the season have each made 413 (Avg: 34.4), 329 (Avg: 27.4), 298 (Avg: 49.7), 296 (Avg: 24.7) and 286 (Avg: 28.6) tackles on the season. They bust their guts for the team as shown through those incredible stats. And equally if not more impressive than that is that all four of those players bar Kenny (23) have years of NRL experience behind them, yet Kenny punches far above his weight and with the rest of the pack.
The Panthers of the past had some major defensive issues that had cruelled them for years, but that’s something that Ivan Cleary has sought to change during his current second stint in charge of the club and has successfully done so. And as the old saying goes defence wins games.
That saying was well and truly on display in RD3 of this campaign as Penrith got one back over Melbourne keeping them to just two tries in what was an all-defensive 12-10 victory. During that enthralling clash, they also made 405 tackles to Melbourne’s 364. And they missed just 25 tackle attempts to the Storms 36.
Most bookmakers have the Panthers as the favourites to win this seasons Premiership and rightfully so. They’re skilled, electric and tough. And above all else no matter what they do each match, whether they play brilliantly or play terribly, they always find a way to come out on top. And they are constantly, constantly relentless! If we’re being honest right now it would take a miracle for them not to claim their third Premiership and that’s just facts.