To be the last team standing on NSWRL Grand Final is the common goal held by each of the 12 Intrust Super Premiership NSW outfits, as they return to pre-season training, under the blistering Summer’s sun.
But, come the last Sunday in September, there could and would only be one team to celebrate the season that was – and in 2017, it was the Penrith Panthers who earned the rights to hold aloft the Intrust Super Premiership trophy.
Put to work in the testing, sweltering conditions of Sydney’s greater West over the 2016 Summer and into the new year, the Panthers laid the foundations for what would be a premiership-winning season to follow.
Coach Garth Brennan oversaw a regime that would ultimately prove to be the one of the champions; outlasting all comers on route to claiming the season’s honours in a 20-12 win over the Wyong Roos at Leichhardt Oval.
A coach, and a playing roster intent on bettering the efforts of their 2014 campaign – a season that saw the Panthers win the then-NSW Cup, before losing the first State Championship – Brennan would not let the chance to be crowned the Interstate’s best slip.
And so, it would be, a week after being crowned the NSWRL’s best, the Panthers would then go on to claim the NRL Intrust Super State Championship – thumping Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup Premiers, the PNG Hunters, 42-18 at ANZ Stadium.
Starting the season in a slow fashion – winning just three of their first eight matches – Brennan’s Panthers held their nerve despite challenges faced both on and off the field by the Penrith club, at large.
One of those losses, a shock defeat at the hands of the Newcastle Knights in Round 6, despite the late inclusions of NRL regulars Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku.
But in mirroring the form reversal of the club’s NRL outfit, the Intrust Super Premiership Panthers would go on a run to win 11 of 12 matches heading into the grand finale. The only loss, somewhat ironically, a two-point defeat to the Wyong Roos in Round 24.
Simply Their Best!
While it’s hard to single out just one member of a premiership team, halfback Darren Nicholls was crowned the Panthers’ best on the final day of the NSWRL season. Steering his side to the eight-point win, Nicholls took the spoils, earning the Chairman’s Medal.
Amongst the side’s best, ISP NSW Hooker of the Year Mitch Rein, who continually pushed his claims for an NRL recall throughout 2017.
Room for Improvement
While there was little room to improve upon their 2017 efforts – the premiers having scored the most points and conceded the least of all clubs throughout the season – betterment may need to result so if Nicholls and Brennan are to be lured away from the club; as reports suggest.
How It Will Be Remembered
Arguably one of the best seasons in recent times, the Panthers became the second Intrust Super Premiership NSW team to win both the NSWRL competition and the NRL State Championship, following on from Illawarra’s lead in 2016.
A stellar season which unearthed remarkable talent, the Panthers will fancy their chances of being in the mix again come the back-end of the 2018 competition.