Penrith Panthers - 2012 Preview

The Panthers are certainly the flavour of the month out West and they will be looking to milk the good publicity they are receiving in order to cure the hungry thirsty desires of the team in 2012. Was that enough OAK puns? Well Cudo for that...ok that's enough...down to the real outlook.

The 2011 season was a frustrating one for Panthers players and fans alike with the play on the field resulting in a number of movements off the field. The 2011 season saw some dramatic events occur at the foot of the mountains with the sacking of head coach Matthew Elliot, the loss of the clubs major sponsor Sanyo, the club captain leaving the team along with sweeping changes to the front office including the release of CEO Michael Leary. Despite these pains, the door of anticipation still remains ajar for the 2012 season.

The Panthers enter the 2012 with a significant amount of positive momentum for the first time in a long time. A new coach with a new regime and training staff, a new and exciting sponsorship arrangement, a vibrant front office with a brilliant social media plan to boulster fan support along with an influx of youth and experience into the full time squad have Panthers fans excited for the future.

The most exciting development at the Panthers is that new head coach Ivan Cleary and General Manager Phil Gould have stated that their focus will be on developing the large junior base at Penrith and provide a pipeline to First Grade for Panthers juniors. This formula is what has brought the Panthers success in the past and will be relied upon to restore this club to glory moving forward.

This push for youth started in late 2011 when Panthers fans caught a glimpse of the stars of tomorrow with the debuts of young guns Blake Austin and Harry Seijka. These two young stars along with a plethora of junior talent progressing through the grades at the Panthers will go a long way to ensuring a re-structuring year of 2012 will establish the platform for prolonged success in 2013 and beyond.

Areas of strength:

Competition - While the Panthers suffered significant turnover to the playing roster at the end of 2011, a number of experienced players have been brought in to compete for playing spots. The biggest competition is for the fullback position with stars Lachlan Coote and Michael Gordon both healthy and vying for the custodian position. Competition breeds success and in each year the Panthers were successful, the lower grade competitions were thriving and putting pressure on the NRL roster to maintain excellence.

Focus on balance - In 2010 the Panthers were criticised for being too reliant on the kicking game to be successful. In 2011 the attacking game plan stalled along with the success of the kicking game which resulted in the pushing of offloads and errors as a result. In 2012, the Panthers will endeavour to play a balanced brand of football harnessing the ability of their skill position players such as Michael Jennings and new Panthers captain Luke Lewis.

Infusion of youth - Along with the recruitment of experience, the Panthers are infusing the best of their NYC team showing that spots are up for grabs. The Panthers will be hoping young guns like Andrew Pelasio, Matthew Moylan, Vaipuna Tia-Kilifi, Evrett Vaurasi, Harry Seijka, Tony Satini and Blake Austin can continue to develop and contribute to the Panthers in the 2012 season.

Areas of development:

Explosive Backrow play - In consecutive years the Panthers have lost playmakers Frank Pritchard and Trent Waterhouse. These two players combined for a plethora of offloads and line breaks at the fringe of the field for many years at the Panthers. With the recruitment of Clint Newton the Panthers feel they have one side secured but the Panthers will require a second fringe impact player to take the pressure of their game breakers in Michael Jennings, Lachlan Coote and Michael Gordon

Discipline and errors- For the last three years the Panthers have either been on the end of a poor error count or lopsided penalty counts. With a new coaching regime in focussing on discipline, these issues are surely being addressed in pre-season. Ultimately, the players must respond to the coach's message and the Panthers cannot afford to give up easy field position as often as they did in 2011

Player to watch: Michael Jennings

In his own words Jennings' 2011 season was sub-par for a player of his standard. Amongst a myriad of off-field problems and inconsistent play on the field, the superstar centre suffered greatly in 2011. Early in 2012, Jennings is saying all the right things and appears to once again be the focussed superstar that Panthers fans know and love. 2012 is a year of redemption for Jennings so watch for the trademark explosion and speed which made him such a strike weapon in 2010.

Rookie to Watch: Andrew Pelasio

Standing at 190cm and weighing 102kg, the Junior Kiwi's winger will be looking to capitalise on a fantastic 2011 NYC campaign. Pelasio consistently showed his athleticism, strength and big play ability throughout the 2011 season, but played a significant role in the Panthers resurgence mid-season scoring eight of his twelve tries this season in the last six weeks of the season. Pelasio's ability to shed tackles and finish at the goal line will see him put significant pressure on Ivan Cleary for an opportunity this season.

Gains & Losses:

Gains - 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)

Losses - 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)

Best Line-Up:

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