Penrith will enter the 2005 season with a quiet confidence after two consecutive years in which the club has enjoyed sustained success. After their rapid rise from also rans to NRL premiers in 2003, the Panthers were always going to struggle a little as defending premiers in 2004. Injuries to key players and the unfamiliar distraction of representative commitments contributed to some erratic form but the mountain men were still good enough to finish in the top four. The nine match suspension of interchange prop Ben Ross and injury to centre Luke Lewis were telling when they were beaten by the Bulldogs 30-14 in the 1st Preliminary Final at Aussie Stadium.
The Panthers lineup possesses a healthy balance of quality experienced players such as Craig Gower, Tony Puletua, Luke Priddis as well as local juniors who have already played representative football, like Luke Rooney, Luke Lewis and Trent Waterhouse. John Lang has re-invented himself in the game as Penrith coach after his impressive stint with Cronulla and he is still on a mission to make the Panthers the number 1 Rugby League club in the world. That means more than just winning one premiership, it means longevity as a successful club.
The Panthers depth will be tested in 2005 following the retirements of the club?s all time leading pointscorer Ryan Girdler and consistent prop Martin Lang, while winger Amos Roberts is off to the Sydney Roosters after just one season with the Panthers. It was quite a brilliant season however, with Roberts scoring 23 tries. His unpredictably and natural athleticism will be missed by the Panthers. Former Cronulla centre Paul Franze is the only signing with previous first grade experience. A tall centre with a good fend, Franze is a decent chance of playing first grade with one wing and one centre position left vacant following the departure of Paul Whatuira and Roberts.
ONE TO WATCH: Frank Pritchard ? The Kiwi back rower was re-signed by the Panthers last year instead of Amos Roberts. Pritchard is a powerful runner of the football with good pace for a forward and an ability to create for others. Pritchard has been impressive in his limited appearances in the top grade due to injury. If he can remain fit for the majority of the season then he will play a far greater role in the Panthers NRL campaign.
PANTHERS SEASON PREVIEW 2005
SEASON 2005 CRYSTAL BALL
The Panthers may have lost some depth, but they have plenty of talent from the Penrith junior nursery waiting to make the step up. The club management has done well to retain the majority of the Panthers 2003 Grand Final winning lineup. The Panthers will have to address their weaknesses in defence to improve, as well as their intensity in away matches. Even though other teams will improve as well the Panthers should still be good enough to challenge the likes of the Bulldogs and the Roosters. Injuries will have a large say in how Penrith perform. If they remain relatively injury free, then a second title in three seasons wouldn?t surprise me. If injuries hit and if captain Craig Gower doesn?t re-sign quickly, this could create confusion out west. At worst the Panthers should still make the eight. BEST: Grand Final Winners WORST: Qualifying Finalists
PANTHERS ? Likely Lineup ?
Michael Allen?s Player Ratings in brackets
10= Superstar 9= Very Good Player 8= Good Player 7= Above Average Player 6= Average Player 5= Unproven / Below Average Player
1- Rhys Wesser (8) 2- Brett Howland (6) 3- Danny Galea (6) 4- Luke Lewis (9) 5- Luke Rooney (9) 6- Preston Campbell (9) 7- Craig Gower (9) 8- Joel Clinton (8) 9- Luke Priddis (9) 10- Ben Ross (8) 11- Joe Galuvao (8) 12- Tony Puletua (9) 13- Trent Waterhouse (8)
14- Shane Rodney (7) 15- Luke Swain (7) 16- Frank Pritchard (7) 17- Garret Crossman (5)
Player Rating Average: 7.76 -Backs: 8, Forwards: 8.33, Interchange: 6.5.
Gains: Brad McMillan (Forbes), Dylan Crawley (Coonabarabran), Michael Gordon (Tweed Heads, 2yrs), Paul Franze (Sharks, 1yr)
Losses: Martin Lang (Retirement), Ryan Girdler (Retirement), Jesse Royal (Knights, 2yrs), Richard Fa?aoso (Roosters, 2yrs), Amos Roberts (Roosters, 4yrs), Paul Whatuira (Tigers, 3yrs), Luke Harlen (Sharks), Aaron Barba (Toowoomba QLD Cup, 3yrs), Daniel Russell (Released)
PANTHERS 2005 NRL DRAW
1- Sharks (Toyota) 2- Roosters (Penrith Stadium) 3- Dragons (Penrith Stadium) 4- Eels (Parramatta Stadium) 5- Storm (Penrith Stadium) 6- Rabbitohs (Aussie Stadium) 7- Cowboys (Penrith Stadium) 8- Warriors (Ericsson Stadium) 9- Raiders (Penrith Stadium) 10- Dragons (Oki Jubilee) 11- Sharks (Penrith Stadium) 12- Sea Eagles (Brookvale Oval) 13- Eels (Penrith Stadium) 14- BYE 15- Storm (Olympic Park) 16- Knights (Penrith Stadium) 17- Raiders (Canberra Stadium) 18- Sea Eagles (Penrith Stadium) 19- Bulldogs (Penrith Stadium) 20- Cowboys (Dairy Farmers Stadium) 21- Warriors (Penrith Stadium) 22- Roosters (Aussie Stadium) 23- BYE 24- Broncos (Penrith Stadium) 25- Bulldogs (Telstra Stadium) 26- Tigers (Telstra Stadium)