In 2022 the Penrith Panthers go from being the hunter, to the hunted, as 15 other NRL teams look to knock the club off their perch as the best Rugby League team in the world.
Like playing the best games at casino roo, the Panthers will have to be at their best to win back-to-back titles for the first time in the clubs history.
One thing going for the Panthers is that they still have youth on their side. The Panthers will line up as one of the youngest teams in the NRL once again this season, led by a core of talent who are all 26 and under and backed by a junior development system that is second to none.
Last season we saw Nathan Cleary going from being a very good young halfback, to the best halfback in the game. His halves partner Jarome Luai broke into State Of Origin level and showed that he was not only a great defender, but a perfect offsider to Clearys steady style of play. They make a brilliant halves duo, the best in the game.
They play behind the best forward pack in the competition, mobile, versatile and with an incredible defensive record. The panthers depth in the forwards is one of their greatest assets, and one of the reasons they have become one of the teams to beat.
Led by James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo, Moses Leota and Viliame Kikau, the Panthers have a superbly balanced pack.
I do worry about their depth at hooker. Last season saw Apisai Koroisau take a bit of a step down in terms of his form. Coupled with some off field issues, I think this is one area the Panthers would like to upgrade their squad. The good news is that the clubs has Mitch Kenny on the books, and he is a very capable backup hooker.
The outside back for the Panthers will be interesting to watch thus season.
Brian To’o is nothing short of a machine while Stephen Crichton has shown glimpses of turning into an absolute monster out wide with the ability to break a game open at any time.
Outside of those two though the Panthers are relying on youngsters and fringe first graders, some of whom I’m sure they are looking to take a step forward in their development as players.
Charlie Staines showed a lot of ability when he burst onto the scene but for the most part 2021 was a year which saw him play some erratic football and eventually lose his place in the side. Christian Crichton recently re-signed with the Panthers for another year, and they will be hoping his size in the backline can help keep them as a tough side to handle.
Then you have Dylan Edwards, who is patchy at best at fullback. He needs to improve if the Panthers are going to defend their title.
All of this of course is coupled withy the fact that every few years the Panthers junior leagues spit out a representative quality player or two. If the Panthers are lucky enough for that to happen this year, in any position, they will be very hard to beat.