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2014 is shaping as a pivotal year in Penrith Panthers history. Since 2011 there has been tremendous change at the foot of the mountains through Gus Gould’s well publicised and overly criticised “Five Year Plan”. In the past three years the Panthers have lost some favourite sons and essentially rebuilt from the ground up both in the Panthers group and the Football team in order to create a sustainable business model.
In 2014, almost everything is new at the Panthers to mark a historic year for the club. A new logo which has caused much controversy in dropping the word “Penrith”, a new slogan “Respect the Past, Create the Future” and a number of new signings mark a year of excitement for Penrith fans. But not all things are new; there is still continuity where it matters most – the Top. Phil Gould has re-committed himself to the Panthers until 2017 and Coach Ivan Cleary has re-signed with the club.
The squad for the 2014 is, on paper, the most balanced squad in over a decade at Panthers. A key pillar underpinning that balance is the strongest depth at the club for some time. This season the Panthers will rely on the experience of some recruits along with the development of young talent. The experience of halves combination Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace will be invaluable to the squad and in developing the younger talent in Bryce Cartwright, Matthew Moylan, Kevin Naiqama and Tyrone Peachey to be infused in the team.
There is a strong buzz around Penrith that this squad will be the one that gets the Panthers to the finals for the first time since 2010 and in year three of the “Five Year Plan” the Panthers are starting to see the fruits of their labour. For those that have stuck to the cause, 2014 is shaping to be an exciting time to be a Panthers fan.
Where they can win
The Penrith Panthers will win off the back of their depth across the park, the experience of the new recruits to the team along with the burgeoning potential of the youth both within the club and recruited in the off-season.
The Panthers boast perhaps the strongest depth of nearly any team in the competition in 2014 coming off Grand Final victories in Holden Cup along with Grand Final appearance in NSW Cup. Considering the recruitment drive, the Panthers have only added to the roster with talented players such as Shaun Spence, Kevin Naiqama and Wellington Albert. These talented additions not only mean the Panthers have adequate numbers to cover injuries, but quality depth able to step in without skipping a beat.
The experience of recruits Brent Kite, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace cannot be understated. All three have played State of Origin and played consistent finals football during their careers. Add to the mix a youth infusion through Kevin Naiqama, Elijah Taylor, Jamal Idris and Tyrone Peachey and the Panthers will have a well balanced team that can attack from anywhere on the field.
Where they may struggle
A time of transition and changing a culture always has the potential to destabilise a club. The Panthers are into year 3 of their “Five Year Plan” and much of the change has already occurred but given the high volume of recruitment over the past year it may take the early part of the season to gel. A new halves pairing at the club in Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward in combination with young stars Matt Moylan and James Segeyaro will need to develop a strong spine for Penrith to compete for a Top 8 spot.
Another area where the Panthers may struggle is speed in the back three. While the back three for the Panthers in 2013 was sensational, there is still room for improvement. Josh Mansour is incredibly talented and a tackle breaking machine, while Matt Moylan has skills of a half at Fullback and David Simmons is a great finisher but none have that elite speed of today’s wingers and fullbacks. With the emergence of Kevin Naiqama, James Roberts and Eto Nabuli, the current back three will need to remain on their toes as if given an opportunity there may not be a spot to come back to.
James Segeyaro – If you look up the phrase “X-Factor” in a dictionary there may be a picture of James Segeyaro. The livewire hooker was a sensation at the Panthers in 2013 instantly becoming a fan favourite through not only his play but interaction on social media and post-game. Segeyaro has the ability to win you games with decisive running and great support play and the Panthers will be hoping he continues the great form he showed in 2013.
Rookie to watch
Eto Nabuli – Much has been made regarding this former porter from Fiji. From a carrying suitcases at a Fijian resort to carrying the football at Penrith, this speedster was the leading tryscorer in the NSW Cup last season with 29 tries – not bad for a guy who hadn’t played Rugby League before. His development has astounded those at the Panthers and while injured in the Nines and out for the early part of the season, he will be one to keep an eye on mid-year to make his debut and be the latest version of the Fijian Flyer.
The big plays
The Panthers missed out on the prized signatures of both Jonathan Thurston and Todd Carney last season and will head into 2014 with perhaps the most controversial halves pairing this year. Both Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace left their prior teams not achieving their potential and they will be looking to recapture the form that made them State of Origin players in the past. For the Panthers to achieve their goal of a Top 8 finish this season, the Soward & Wallace combination must fire and be potent.
1. Matthew Moylan 2. Josh Mansour 3. Jamal Idris 4. Dean Whare 5. David Simmons 6. Jamie Soward 7. Peter Wallace 8. Tim Grant 9. Kevin Kingston (c) 10. Brent Kite 11. Sika Manu 12. Lewis Brown 13. Elijah Taylor
Interchange: 14. James Segeyaro 15. Nigel Plum 16. Sam McKendry 17. Tyrone Peachey