It’s a frustrating time in Pantherland at the moment, with fans and Members quickly losing patience as season 2016 starts to slip away; left behind as a year of what-ifs and unfulfilled expectations.
And while history may ultimately show that this current squad goes on to win competitions and become a true premiership threat, there is a legitimate question to be asked about whether or not the panic button was hit way too early in regards to the youth policy that appears to dominate coach Anthony Griffin’s game plans at present.
The excuse of youth and immaturity is a fair one – Penrith fielded one of the most inexperienced sides in its history against the Sharks last weekend – but as I’ve written before, it is of the club’s own doing.
Instead of persisting with the experience of Jamie Soward to assist teenager Nathan Cleary settle in to first grade football, Griffin has instead opted to put a makeshift five-eighth in Bryce Cartwright alongside him. It’s an experiment that hasn’t really worked but with Soward on a plane to England, the Panthers are left without any real solution to the halves problem until Te Maire Martin returns. Even then, the combination will be so inexperienced that it’s unlikely to turn results around quickly.
While the Panthers will argue that Soward, James Segeyaro and Elijah Taylor needed to be moved on, there is no doubt that it has left a huge gap in this year’s squad as far as experience is concerned.
In fact, the Panthers have offloaded more than 400 games of top grade experience just in those three players – experience that was quite obviously lacking against the Sharks last weekend; experience that could be the difference between playing finals football this year or booking an early end of season holiday.
Griffin has essentially dismantled everything that Ivan Cleary built at Penrith – perhaps that is what was needed and I have no doubt that 2017 and 2018 may well prove that point, but it means the dreaded ‘re-building’ word has entered the rugby league vocabulary at Panthers again and that will no doubt have fans and Members pulling their hair out.
They’ve heard it all before.
This Sunday the Panthers take on arch rivals Parramatta and yet again, it’s a match the team should and must win. But as the weeks go by in season 2016, it’s harder and harder to be confident.
The Eels are down and out, rocked by salary cap scandals, court cases and off-field drama, but they still turn up every week and produce an 80 minute effort that is the envy of many clubs behind or around them on the competition table. More to the point, their fans keep turning up – it is their loyalty that is the untold story of the club’s chaotic season.
We could go through player match-ups, strengths, weaknesses and statistics all day, but in reality it all comes down to two things: holding the football and aiming up in defence.
The return of Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour and Tyrone Peachey into first grade should provide at least some balance to that inexperience.
Lose here, and I’m willing to say that 2016 is done and dusted.
Tip: Panthers by 2.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.