Club: Penrith Panthers
Record: 20-4 (+323)
Players Used in 2014: 44
Season Highlight: Take your pick, but obviously their Grand Final triumph is ultimately what it was all about
Season Lowlight: If we had to be critical we would have to say their second half performance against the Northern Pride in the National Championship match
Summary: What a season it was for the men from the foot of the mountains. They opened up the year with back to back losses against the Knights and Roos, but from that point on, there was barely a blemish on their scorecard.
Following their early season slip up, the Panthers remained unbeaten until suffering a tough six point loss at the hands of Cronulla in round eight, but after that they were basically untouchable.
In fact had the Panthers not relinquished a 24 point lead against the Jets during their round 19 loss, they would have won 20 straight matches from round 8b through until their Grand Final victory.
Despite having a roster that would have been the envy of every other club in the competition, it must be said that the Panthers had to do it the hard way at times with the club suffering from a horrific injury toll at different stages during their 2014 campaign.
While the bulk of these injuries, many of which were season ending in nature, happened to guys who were playing in first grade at the time, however this then put added pressure on the clubs second tier sides as a result. George Jennings went down in the pre-season which was a significant loss early on with big things predicted for the young outside back and then during the year they also lost Isaac John (Achilles) and Shaun Spence (Concussion) to injury, who both would have been in their best 17 on any given week. When you also factor in that a number of players had to be elevated into the NRL to cover for the losses of others such as Bryce Cartwright, Tyrone Peachey, Elijah Taylor and Peter Wallace who all finished the year on the sidelines, you gain a better appreciation of just what they achieved in 2014.
So many great players for the Panthers in 2014, as you would expect given their achievements. The Naiqama boys and Eto Nabuli all had consistent years, but with all three leaving the club over the off season, Panthers fans will perhaps have been more enthused by the performances of both Waqa Blake and Kieran Moss. Blake at 20 and Moss at 21 years of age represent the future of the Panthers organisation with both players currently contracted until the end of the 2016 season. Blake’s size, strength and ability has already seen him draw comparisons with the likes of Greg Inglis while Moss is a try scoring freak whose support play is second to none. While Moss is currently playing behind Matt Moylan, he would be hopeful that he will get a shot sooner rather than later even if that means he has to do so on a wing.
Another young gun who looks set for a long and prosperous NRL career is Reagan Campbell-Gillard. This 21 year old monster who stands near two metres tall and tips the scales in excess of 110kg continued to show in 2014 just why he is one of the hottest prospects in the game. Gillard along with guys like Sam Anderson and Ryan Simpkins really laid the platform most weeks so that the Panthers scintillating backline could be free to do their thing.
The 2015 season will be an interesting one for the Panthers in both the VB NSW Cup and NRL given the large turnover of talent that is currently taking place. Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston, Tom Humble, Luke Capewell, Eto Nabuli, Kevin Naiqama, Wes Naiqama, Matt Robinson, Ryan Simpkins, Anthony Cherrington and Tom Eisenhuth have all moved on for one reason or another and a few others may yet follow depending on how negotiations go over the coming weeks. To put that into perspective, seven of their starting 17 from the Grand Final definitely won’t be at the club in 2015 and another two or three may yet join them.
The Panthers are still likely to start as one of the more fancied sides in the VB NSW Cup in 2015 with a potential spine that consists of Moss, John, Smith and the newly signed Koroisau while Gillard and Anderson look set to once again book end the front row. Toss in some young talent like George and Robert Jennings as well as someone like Andy Saunders up front also, and the Panthers should be able to make a good fist of their premiership defence.
Conclusion: A dream season for the Panthers. They entered the season carrying the favourites tag and despite a slow couple of weeks to kick off the year, they dominated right throughout.