You have skipped the navigation, tab for page content
Harden ready for coaching reins in NSW Cup defence

The first Friday in March at Penrith’s BlueBet Stadium is circled on the calendar as the Panthers begin their defence of The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, with a different head coach and several key players moving on.

But incoming coach Ben Harden, who has been head of the Panthers pathways program for several years and now takes over from Peter Wallace (promoted to NRL assistant), doesn’t feel the weight of expectation at this stage.

“I could think of worse positions to walk into,” Harden told

“There’s pressure across all grades to be fair considering the success we had last year. But it’s a fresh start – a new season – for everyone.

“It hasn’t really crossed my mind in terms of expectation because it’s been a bit of a unique pre-season with the World Cup and players returning late.

“Our real focus is just to get to our trials in four weeks and then re-assessing once we get into round one.”

And Harden remains in close contact with Wallace to toss over ideas.

“I’ve worked really closely with ‘Wallo’ for the past couple of years and been good friends off the field for a fairly long time; we played footy together as kids,” Harden said.

“Nothing has changed too much as this year I’ll be on the field with the NRL, so we’ll still be bouncing ideas off each other which I’ll take to the afternoon session (NSW Cup squad).

“It will be a pretty seamless transition for me with that communication line from top to bottom.”

Despite losing halfback Sean O’Sullivan, forward and captain J’maine Hopgood, and fullback-centre Charlie Staines, Harden is very pleased to have retained players like fullback Isaiah Iongi and NSWRL Jersey Flegg Player of the Year Jack Cole for his 2023 NSW Cup side.

Both re-signed with the Panthers in January alongside Australian Schoolboys Jesse McLean and Harrison Hassett. Both were also part of the CABE Junior Blues camp at NSWRL headquarters last November.

“Our full-time squad probably hasn’t changed too much apart from some younger guys progressing through, which everyone would have seen in the back end of the year,” Harden said.

He recalled the NSW Cup team’s 22-14 win over the Bears in Week One of the finals “with pretty much the Jersey Flegg side and half of the St Marys Ron Massey Cup team” as NRL coach Ivan Cleary called up nine Panthers into first grade to rest some of his stars against the Cowboys.

Cole and longi also played in Penrith’s 44-10 win over the QRL’s Norths Devils in the 2022 State Championship last October at Sydney’s Accor Stadium.

“We’ve got good relationships in our afternoon program and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Harden said.

“There is a lot of experience moving on, which is very similar to our first grade side as well so there’s a challenge to sustain the success here and my job is still to progress the younger guys.

“It all starts with Round One.”

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

Platinum Partner

Major Partners

View All Partners