Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
The return of Penrith Panthers centre Ryan Girdler and winger Brett Howland for next weekend?s grand final replay against the Sydney Roosters at Telstra Stadium has created a welcome headache for coach John Lang.
Lang must decide which players to cut for the game, with the Panthers to have a fully fit squad for the first time this season.
Girdler will most certainly return to his position at centre, forcing Luke Lewis back to the wing. In that case, both Howland and new signing Amos Roberts would be demoted to the lower grades.
But with Roberts? stunning Panthers debut against the Raiders in Canberra last Friday night, an argument will be made for keeping him in the top side.
Lang does have the option of dumping centre Paul Whatuira, leaving Lewis in the centres to pair Girdler, therefore opening up a position on the wing for Roberts.
But that still leaves Howland, who was injured during the Panthers? round one loss to Newcastle, without a spot in the squad.
Lang will most likely favour keeping Whatuira in the side, given he was part of the Panthers? premiership winning team last year and has been solid in the opening two games of the season.
The make-up of Lang?s final squad may depend on how the Panthers fair against the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland on Sunday afternoon.
It?s quite possible that a number of players ? in particular Roberts and Whatuira ? are playing for their positions in the squad.
Lang says he?s been happy with the way Penrith have played so far this season, but doesn?t believe they have hit the peak that saw them defy the odds and win last year?s Grand Final.
?You?re hopefully going to build as the season goes on and nobody should be at their best now,? Lang told Big League Magazine.
?For us I think last Friday night was a step forward but we are going to ebb and flow over the season, it?s not just a steady rise.?