Can The Penrith Panthers Win Four In A Row?

It feels almost unreal to be asking the question. Can the Penrith Panthers become the first club to win four straight Grand Finals in 2024?

The Panthers have been lucky enough to hold onto most of their key players for the 2024 season. Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards, Moses Leota, James Fisher-Harris, Brian To’o, Izack Tago, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo….all proven winners covering all the key positions on the football field. If you took the 2024 season in isolation, you’d expect this team to be hard to beat this season.

The thing is, this team has played a LOT of football over the last few years. The pressures of being the champions can’t be overstated. Everyone is coming to get them in every single game they play.

The Panthers have also lost a number of key players over the last few years. Salary cap pressures have seen some of their top of the line players leave the club, as well as having a huge effect on the clubs depth.

I wrote last year about how you could make a pretty decent NRL team just with the players the Penrith Panthers have lost over the last few years.

So, how do the Panthers line up in 2024?

There’s no doubt that as of right now, the Panthers look to be at the very least a top four team.

The Brisbane Broncos will be really strong once again. The loss of Thomas Flegler and Herbie Farnworth will hurt them, but you’d expect that last years finals run, and that experience in the Grand Final loss will fuel them all year. I would not be shocked at all if they win the minor premiership at the very least.

The Melbourne Storm are the Melbourne Storm. They terrify me. They had a bit of an off year (for them!) last year. When was the last time a Craig Bellamy team had back-to-back disappointing seasons? Just quietly, I’d love to see the Panthers play them in this years Grand Final, just to get some measure of revenge for 2020!

Can the South Sydney Rabbitohs bounce back from their terribly disappointing season in 2023? How about the Parramatta Eels? On their day both sides can challenge the Panthers during the regular season, but last year felt like something broke in both clubs. Yes injuries took their toll, but it was more than that.

The Cronulla Sharks, Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters all feel like they are just a few levels off the top teams in the competition, especially when you start thinking of performing at your best during the finals.

How will the New Zealand Warriors back up after their great season in 2023? I enjoy it when the Warriors are doing well, I think it is great for the game, but I do worry they are going to find it hard to back up last years performance.

If Wayne Bennett can get the Dolphins into finals contention, they could do something. They are a tough side that just needed a bit more depth and a bit more polish. Not bad for a team who is about to line up in just their second season in the NRL.

The Gold Coast Titans have a heap of talent, but how can you possibly put any faith in them? Just going on the clubs history….you can’t.

The North Queensland Cowboys look the goods on paper, but they lacked mobility in their pack to get it done defensively last year. If they’ve had a good off season I could see them. breaking into the top four, but I’m going to need to see them prove themselves before I can really rate them.

As for the rest…..forget it!

As always injuries will play a big part in the season, and with the Panthers depth tested more than ever this year, this is going to be key. I remember last year when Jerome Luai injured his shoulder later in the season I questioned whether or not that was a hammer blow to the Panthers season. They managed to survive until Luai could make it back, but they can’t afford to have to navigate too many injuries this season if they want to make history.

Because we know what the Panthers stars can do, for me, their season will almost be determined by how their greater squad goes.

The return of Daine Laurie could be huge for the Panthers. He can cover fullback if needed at a pretty high level, but where I think he will add the most value is his ability to slot into the halves if needed. I’ve always felt he was more suited to the five-eight role, and this Panthers side is the perfect lineup to have him show what he can do in the halves. A super handy addition.

Mavrik Geyer will get his chance to shine in first grade this season. The Panthers have lost a bit of their depth in the pack, which a few seasons ago was absolutely outrageous. If Geyer can come in and make an impact off the bench, it will be huge for the Panthers.

Taylan May spent the entire 2023 season recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in a trial match. A lot of the Panthers season will depend on how he bounces back from that as he will be asked to fill the hole left by the great Stephen Crichton. May is a big dude who was showing so much ability in 2022 and was on track for a break out year last year. If he can get back to that form, any concerns about the Panthers depth in talent out wide pretty much evaporate.

Brad Schneider, Jack Cole, and Soni Luke will all get a run at some point. Once again, it’s these fringe players in the squad that you’d hope can step in and get the job done as Jack Cogger and Sean O’Sullivan have in recent years.

So, onto my concerns…

The Panthers play a brutal, grinding style of game. They are a young team still (Which is crazy to think about) but eventually that will take its toll. Not every game can descend into grinding the opposition into dust. I’d like to see the Panthers add some variation into their attack, and get back a little more to going through a rotation of their forwards in their wider squad as they were doing a few years ago to take pressure off the likes of Fisher-Harris and Leota more than anything.

I was concerned about Jarome Luai’s contract situation, but that seems to be something that has been worked out now. You could tell it was becoming an issue, and rightfully so, last year. I can completely understand that Luai wasn’t all that happy about the situation, but seeing him talk about it recently he seems much more at peace with how everything turned out and looks happy again which is good to see. A million bucks a year will do that! 😀

The Broncos and their reaction to last years Grand Final loss is a big unknown. That type of defeat could break a club, but it could also turn them into an absolute monster of a side. I tend to think it will be the latter we will see out of the Broncos. That loss will have burnt them over the off season. I expect them to come out this year and be so hard to beat. They are a young side themselves, and they have improvement in them right across the park. They really are the team for the Panthers to beat this year.

So, can the Panthers make it four in a row?

Despite the loss of players due to the salary cap constraints (Which are good for the game!), they are really, really well placed to do it.

It is not going to be easy. Winning one is unbelievably difficult. Every single premiership is a marathon slog of ups and downs which needs a sprinkling of luck over the top of it to end in your club holding up the trophy at seasons end.

We’ve already seen this Penrith Panthers team is more than most. They are special. Really, really special. Just based on what they have already done, they are one of the greatest teams of all time. If this squad doesn’t win another premiership, they are already talked about in the history books. They are set.

If they win it all this year, playing in what would be their 5th Grand Final in a row, they surpass the achievements of some of the greatest teams of all time. Let’s set this straight, nobody is catching the great St George Dragons teams of the 50’s and 60’s. They are the best team of all time. However, if the Panthers win it all again in 2024, they go into the conversation over who is the second best team of all time, and honestly, that is mind-blowing for this Panthers fan to contemplate.

The cool thing is, I think this Panthers side are very aware of the history that is at stake. They know where they currently stand, and what they could achieve on the scale of best teams of all time. What is really impressive, they seem to want it! They want to chase that history, and they are all still young enough to achieve so much more in the game.

I’m not going to say whether or not the Panthers will achieve a 4th straight title. At this stage, I’d never count anything out with this club. I will say this though..

The Panthers are in a fantastic position to win it all in 2024. They have the stars to do it. They have the coach to do it. They have a junior base which has proven to produce test quality players every few years. They will be very hard to beat this season, and with a bit of luck going their way, this team will have a great chance to write themselves into the history books in 2024.

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