2011 in review - Penrith Panthers

After a stellar 2010 season in which the Panthers finished the season in second place, there was some expectation that the Panthers would continue that momentum in 2011. The Panthers were returning the majority of the squad, but key losses of Frank Pritchard and Wade Graham would surely have their impact.

2011 was a season to forget for the Panthers on and off the football field. On the field the team was playing a poor brand of football with a lack of creativity meaning that the Panthers went from the best attacking team of 2010, to the third worst in 2011. The poor play from the Panthers in the opening two months of the season resulted in the Panthers board informing coach Matthew Elliot that his services were not required for 2012 and beyond. While the board retained Elliot for a few more weeks, ultimately the distraction was too large and assistant Steve Georgallis was placed in the role for the remainder of the season.

Jack Gibson once stated that success begins in the front office and years of mediocrity had plagued the Panthers in this respect. As a result of that disappointment, the Panthers board appointed 1991 premiership-winning coach Phil Gould as the clubs new Manager of Football Operations in order to oversee change at the Panthers. The key changes that Phil Gould instigated were changes to the management structure of the Panthers with CEO Mick Leary moving aside and the majority of the coaching staff departing. Gould then appointed 2011 Warriors coach Ivan Cleary to the role of head coach for 2012.

In another sign of change at the Panthers, club Captain Petero Civoniceva, was also allowed to depart back home to Brisbane. Petero left the 2011 season with strong parting words in the club game-day newspaper suggesting that the Panthers need an upheaval of the current board, not the first time in 2011 that Petero had made such statements.

The Panthers had some positives in the 2011 season with the emergence of young stars of the future Harry Seijka, Blake Austin, Sarafu Fatiaki and Nafe Seluini. All three youngsters handled their job effectively and the continued emergence of young prop duo Sam McKendry and Tim Grant mean the Panthers have a solid foundation up front.

Injuries played a key role in the Panthers downturn again in 2011 with key player Michael Gordon lost for the season and injuries to key playmakers such as Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis throughout the year. Ultimately, the Panthers had a disappointing season which was not up to the fans or clubs expectation.

With limited recruitment in 2012 and another long list of player departures the Panthers would be hoping for an infusion of youth from their junior ranks to spark the rebuilding effort. Ivan Cleary has made it known that the Panthers will be focussing on developing and fostering junior talent in the Penrith area. This focus was the formula for success when the Panthers won the premiership in 1991 and 2003. Cleary comes to Penrith with a reputation for getting the best of young players at the Warriors. As such, Panthers fans will be hoping Cleary can continue to work his magic to deliver the Panthers a third premiership under his guidance.

Clint Newton (ESL), Cameron Ciraldo (Newcastle Knights), Danny Galea (Canberra Raiders), Geoff Daniella (Wests Tigers), Junior Tia-Kilifi (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Chris Armit (Bulldogs), Ryan Simpkins (QRL)

Petero Civoniceva (Brisbane Broncos), Matthew Bell (Wests Tigers), Shane Elford (Retirement), Joseph Paulo (Eels), Adrian Purtell (ESL), Timana Tahu (Newcastle Knights), Trent Waterhouse (ESL), Daine Laurie (Knights)

Sandor Earl, Nigel Plum, Harry Seijka, Blake Austin, David Simmons, Nathan Smith

2012 Best Line-Up:

The biggest question mark over the Panthers 2012 line up is finding an impact backrower to aggressively hit the fringe of the defence along with depth at prop and in the halves. The Panthers will be hoping young guns like Andrew Pelasio, Matthew Moylan, Vaipuna Tia-Kilifi, Evrett Vaurasi, Harry Seijka and Blake Austin can continue to develop and make an impact in the 2012 season.

Ivan Cleary has proven early in his career that he will promote young talent ahead of established stars if they are not performing and Panthers fans would be hoping for the same attitude to be carried forward in 2012.

A key to the 2012 line up will be where Michael Gordon lines up in the team. Many have suggested Gordon should remain at fullback at the expense of Lachlan Coote, or potentially a shift to centre. As Coote is too talented to leave out of the team and Gordon would not see much early ball in the centres, Gordon should start the year on the wing where he will see the most action and utilises his skills the best.

Another area of contention is the five-eight position. Travis Burns in the starter from last year but he will be under pressure immediately in the trials from a young and talented five-eight Harry Seijka who proved last year he was more than up to NRL standard. While Burns gets the starting position in 2012, Seijka will be given plenty of opportunities to stake a claim in the near future whether at five-eight or halfback.

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Andrew Pelasio 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Tighe 5. Michael Gordon 6. Travis Burns 7. Luke Walsh 8. Sam McKendry 9. Kevin Kingston 10. Tim Grant 11. Clint Newton 12. Nathan Smith 13. Luke Lewis
Interchange: 14. Nafe Seluini 15. Dayne Weston 16. Nigel Plum 17. Blake Austin