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  • 00:46:09 AEST
  • Sunday, 25 March 2018

Penrith Panthers NRL 2018 season preview

Panthers push the panic button

Key ins: James Maloney (Sharks)

Key Outs: Matt Moylan (Sharks), Bryce Cartwright (Titans), Leilani Latu (Titans), Mitch Rein (Titans)



After finishing 2016 in a rich vein of form, the Panthers found themselves rated as front-runners heading into last season. The weight of public expectation proved too much for the Penrith side however, just managing to sneak into the top eight only to be knocked out in the second week of the finals. After a breakout year in 2016, Bryce Cartwright spent the majority of the season dealing with injury and personal issues, whilst hometown fan favourite and captain Matt Moylan had a falling out with coach Anthony Griffin. Lo and behold, both players find themselves at new clubs this season.

In response to the club’s downward trajectory and exile of key players, Panthers’ General Manager has lured veteran James Maloney to the foot of the mountains. Say what you like about Maloney’s on-field tactics, he has proven to be one of the game’s most successful halves, winning a premiership in his first season at both the Roosters in 2013 and the Sharks in 2016. Penrith fans will be hoping that the experienced number six will offer greater consistency and temperament than Moylan, who didn’t provide the leadership that the Panthers players craved last season.

Nathan Cleary was a rare shining light for the Panthers in 2017 after bursting onto the scene. The son of West Tigers coach Ivan Cleary was the competition’s leading scorer (228) and many believe that the NSW Blues number 7 jersey is his to lose this year.    

With their backs firmly against the wall in 2018 and very little expectation, this season provides a perfect opportunity for the Panthers to hit their straps. If things go bad early however, expect Griffin to be shown the door. He’s still in the early stages of his coaching career and is yet to prove he’s up to the mark, with questions hovering over his player management ability following the Moylan saga.    


Player to watch: Dylan Edwards was a standout in his rookie season last year, as he cemented his role at fullback with Moylan moving to the halves. He was easily one of the Panther’s best and with one full season under his belt, you’d expect him to improve significantly for season 18’.

Key Player: James Maloney is a proven winner and will finally answer Penrith fan’s long-awaited call for a stable five-eighth. With young-gun Nathan Cleary pulling the strings at halfback, Maloney will be afforded the free reign which he was deprived of at the Sharks. He will be an ideal mentor for Cleary, however Griffin will be hoping the veteran improves his discipline after becoming the most penalised player in the competition last season (36).



Outside backs rating: 7/10

The all international backline of Josh Mansour (Australia), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (New Zealand), Dean Whare (New Zealand) and Waqa Blake (Fiji) have all had their fair share of injuries in recent years. Mansour was in brilliant form in 2016 which earned him a call up to the NSW Origin side, however he missed half of the 2017 season through injury. Waqa Blake will play alongside Mansour and proved in 2017 that he has plenty of ability with 7 tries, 8 try assists and 13 line-breaks from 23 games. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare will pair up on the left side of the field and both Kiwi internationals are consistent and offer plenty in both attack and defence. 

Forward Pack rating: 7/10

Former Kangaroo forwards Trent Merrin and James Tamou have failed to play their best footy at the foot of the mountains, however both have the ability to dominate their opposition with strong ball running and offloading ability. Corey Harawira-Naera and Isaah Yeo both had breakout seasons in 2017 and will only improve this year, whilst Reagan Campbell-Gillard displayed career best form which earned him a Kangaroos jersey for the World Cup.    

Spine rating: 7/10      

The combination of Dylan Edwards (Fullback), James Maloney (Five-Eighth), Nathan Cleary (Halfback) and Peter Wallace (Hooker) is one of the most promising spines in the competition. The experience of Maloney will be a welcome addition for Peter Wallace and takes plenty of pressure off Nathan Cleary. The talented Dylan Edwards will be able to chime in from the back when the opportunity provides. The hopes of all Panthers fans sit firmly on the shoulders of these four players. 



Bookies' Verdict

Our Verdict

Top 8


Too short, Griffin needs to prove he's got what it takes to tap the side's potential. 




2018 Prediction



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