What Do Us Panthers Fans Have To Look Forward To In 2012?

How good is it to go into a Rugby League season and feel optimistic about the club?

Its been a long time for us Panthers fans since we could feel positive towards the club. For so long it was a closed shop. No one was accountable for their behavior off the field or their failure on it. We saw people who we all knew were no good at their jobs get massive contract extent ions, and while this was all going on, the club didn’t give a stuff about its eroding fan base.

Thankfully, things have change!

To see what Phil Gould has managed to do since joining the club as General Manger is remarkable. It is like he has given us our club back! Finally the Panthers are investing time and effort into the supporter base. The club is going out of its way to engage with fans.

We are seeing the club doing a lot of work in schools and with the community in general. It is something we have never really had, and the club will benefit from this engagement in the long run.

Signing Ivan Cleary as coach of the club was genius. He is the perfect coach for the situation we find ourselves in right now. We will see the club once again value our local juniors and few coaches are as good at bringing youngsters through as Cleary is.

Discipline has been a huge difference since Gould took over. As he mentioned a while ago on Twitter to me, when it comes to discipline “The players crave it”. We have already seen players being fined, suspended, and even let go from the club for off field issues. As I mentioned to Gould not to long ago, the club will not lose a single fan if we lose games because they suspended or sacked a player for stupid behaviour off the field.

As Panthers fans, we need to be realistic about the clubs goals over not only this season, but the next few seasons.

Many pundits are tipping us for the wooden spoon this year, and honestly, I don’t blame them. Look at our track record! I personally think we have the coaching staff and playing ability to finish the season around 7th or 8th place, but we will see what happens.

For me, results in 2012 aren’t as important as just seeing the whole club overall being revived.

We are going to have issues in regards to the clubs salary cap, this was confirmed by Gould not too long ago. The previous management left behind a mess, and our salary cap situation is a very real issue that may see the club having to let certain players leave. We have to cop it sweet as a supporter base. There could be some short term pain for some long term gain.

Always remember that, for any player we lose, there is a young bloke in our massive junior system that will get an opportunity to shine. We are the type of club that can afford to rely heavily on our juniors and eventually, that junior development system will relieve our salary cap issues and free up money for the club to target those one or two top class free agents that will hopefully add the finishing touches to our squad.

That is a fair way down the track though.

So what do we have to look forward to on the field this year?

We recently re-signed Luke Walsh and that is great news. I’ve liked the look of Walsh as a halfback for a few years now and I think he was unfairly pigeonholed as just having a kicking game by a few idiots ion the media. Let me tell you, Walsh is the real deal. He has shown an ability to change his style of play when needed and under a good coach with a decent attacking structure, he is going to be just what we need.

Travis Burns will probably start the season alongside Walsh and by all accounts Burns has been great off the field in helping the club change its culture and move in the right direction. I have a feeling though that youngster Harry Seijka may be in line to push him for his spot in the first grade side. Seijka showed he had a bit of a spark about his play last season. Give him time, he will push for a starting spot.

It looks pretty clear that Michael Gordon will get the first shot at the fullback spot. His form there last season was fantastic before a knee injury ended his season. I think Gordon can play well enough at fullback to start getting people considering him in the NSW fullback role. Where that leaves Lachlan Coote is anyone’s guess. We can’t afford to keep both I don’t think and Gordon is going to to want a lot of money to stick around.

Michael Jennings needs a big season. Between a few off field issues, his up and down play on the field and his injury problems, our highest paid player needs to step it up in 2012 and shine.

I think Jennings was badly effected by poor coaching in the past. Cleary should bring out the best in him.

Sandor Earl I think could be ready to have a break out season. He has been knocked out of stride by injuries in the past just as he was hitting form. If he can get a good run of football under his belt, he can be a real asset for us out wide.

We lost Trent Waterhouse and Petero “Coach, Trainer, CEO, Board Member” Civoniceva at the end of last year and a lot of people are suggesting that will be a huge blow to our forwards. I think we will be better for it myself.

Waterhouse was terrible last year and Petero, when we wasn’t whinging, looked a step slower that the player he was when we first got him. I actually think he will retire mid season this year at the Broncos.

We have a big pack of forwards who will be so much better for the better training and coaching they will now be getting. Gone will be the days of five hitups and a kick. They won’t be running into the teeth of the defense for 80 minutes any more, and they do have the ability to match it with most packs in the game.

We got some good news recently when Nigel Plum was revealed to have an injury that isn’t expected to keep him out for as long as first thought. I think he can be great for us if he gets back early enough in the season to run himself into form.

We have a forward pack that is big and fairly mobile too. I don’t see them being a weakness for us at all. Especially as they will be led by Luke Lewis, who these days is one of the first picked in the Australian side, and who was a great selection as captain of the club.

We go into 2012 looking at positives, and that is a huge change from what we have had to look forward to in the past.

As fans, now its up to us. We need to get to games and support the club. A day out at Penrith Football Stadium is a pretty good experience. I know it has been hard in recent seasons, but things have changed. Now we have reasons to get out and support the club and know that the club will value us is return.

The turn around of the Penrith Panthers from a poorly run, struggling club, into a juggernaught of the NRL will take every level of the club to step up and do its part. That includes us fans.

The people with a hands on role at the club are doing their part. The coaching staff is doing there’s. The players will bust their guts to do the very best they can in 2012. Now its up to us supporters to turn up in big numbers and show the rest of the game that the true giant has finally awoken.

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