Troy Dodds looks back on a roller coaster season at the foot of the Mountains…
MARCH: A SHOCK START
The Panthers open their much anticipated 2017 campaign with a shock 42-10 loss to the Dragons at Kogarah Oval. Penrith are totally outplayed, and finish the opening round of the competition in last place.
The rugby league world is rocked by front page headlines suggesting a woman was paid $50,000 to have an abortion after she fell pregnant to Panthers star Bryce Cartwright. The fallout is immense and rattles Penrith’s start to the season. Phil Gould holds a long press conference, stressing the club had no knowledge of the payout.
In other on field action, the Panthers thrash the Tigers 36-2 at Campbelltown, go down to a controversial late try 14-12 to the Roosters and bash Newcastle 40-0 at Pepper Stadium.
APRIL: NEW DEALS & CONTROVERSY
The Panthers fight hard but eventually go down 28-6 to Melbourne at AAMI Park. Despite getting over the line numerous times, the Panthers couldn’t find the points needed and the eventual Minor Premiers showed their class.
Coach Anthony Griffin dramatically axes Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku from first grade after they breached team protocol by breaking a curfew and hitting the town in Melbourne. The trio miss Penrith’s clash with Souths, with the Rabbitohs eventually getting up 21-20 thanks to a late field goal.
Winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak signs a new three-year deal with the Panthers. Meanwhile, his brother Malakai makes his first grade debut with Penrith.
Dean Whare signs a new long-term deal with Penrith that will see him stay at the club until at least the end of the 2022 season.
In other on-field action, Penrith are embarrassed 28-2 by Cronulla at Pepper Stadium, go down 18-12 to Parramatta at ANZ Stadium and lose 32-18 to a dominant Broncos at Suncorp.
MAY: COMEBACK KINGS
Representative duty calls for Penrith with a whopping 19 Panthers players chosen to compete in various fixtures during the NRL Rep Round. It’s highlighted by Trent Merrin’s selection in the Australian team to take on New Zealand.
Penrith produce an incredible second half comeback to get their shaky season back on track and down the Warriors 36-28 at Pepper Stadium. They come from 28-6 behind to secure the back-from-the-dead win.
The Panthers are again forced to come from behind the following round, beating Newcastle 30-20 after being down 14-0 at half-time.
Hooker Peter Wallace suffers a groin injury, ruling him out of New South Wales’ State of Origin campaign. Bryce Cartwright also suffers an injury, adding to the woes of Penrith’s up and down season.
JUNE: MOYZA MAKES THE SWITCH
Anthony Griffin names Matt Moylan at five-eighth to play Canterbury at ANZ Stadium, shifting him from his beloved fullback role. The switch seems to work, with Moylan leading the Panthers to a 38-0 demolition of Des Hasler’s team.
Penrith produce a miracle in Bathurst – coming from eight points down with two minutes on the clock to beat the Raiders 24-20 in a game that would ultimately have an enormous impact on the top eight.
The Panthers narrowly miss out on a fifth straight win, going down late to the Cowboys 14-12 in Townsville.
Panthers centre Dean Whare reveals he’s concerned as the game’s pay dispute rolls into another month. “It’s a big issue at the moment, with no one knowing what’s happening next year,” Whare says.
After months of speculation, Te Maire Martin signs a three-year deal with North Queensland, while Peta Hiku is granted a release after being given an opportunity in England.
Exciting forward Corey Harawira-Naera signs a new deal with the club, securing his future until at least the end of the 2020 season.
JULY: A HICCUP, THEN ‘THE RUN’
Penrith’s season is placed on life support after a 42-14 thumping at the hands of Souths at ANZ Stadium. The Panthers hit back, however, downing Manly 16-8 the following week to keep their season alive.
After the Manly win, Penrith build an impressive winning streak with victories over the Warriors, Titans and Bulldogs.
Trent Merrin suffers a knee injury in the win over the Warriors, ruling him out for several weeks.
Leilani Latu denies persistent rumours that he’s poised to leave the Panthers to take up an opportunity elsewhere.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is cleared of any wrongdoing following a frightening incident at a junior rugby league match in which he was attacked by an official while helping out as a touch judge.
AUGUST: FINALS LOOK LIKELY
The Panthers dare to dream after downing the Wests Tigers and Cowboys in consecutive weeks, allowing them to move into the top eight for the first time in 2017. A thrilling 26-22 win over Canberra in the nation’s capital then all but confirms Penrith will be playing in September.
Captain Matt Moylan is sidelined with another hamstring injury; ruling him out of the club’s final two matches.
The Panthers’ winning streak is ended by a desperate St George-Illawarra, who score an unlikely 16-14 victory in front of a huge crowd in wet conditions at Pepper Stadium.
The Panthers announce their stadium sponsorship deal with Pepper will conclude at the end of the year. The club opts to take back the naming rights to the venue, confirming it’ll be called Panthers Stadium from 2018 onwards.
SEPTEMBER: PLENTY TO WORK ON
Penrith limp into the Finals on the back of a 28-12 loss to Manly at Lottoland.
The Panthers are plunged into crisis with talk that skipper Matt Moylan has played his last game for the team. A meeting is held at Panthers HQ, after which it is confirmed that Moylan is staying at the Panthers but would be taking a break from football due to personal issues. Moylan’s future remains clouded.
Penrith produce an inspiring and memorable 22-10 win over Manly in week one of the Finals at Allianz Stadium.
The Panthers’ season comes to an end at the hands of Brisbane, with Wayne Bennett’s men winning the Elimination Semi Final 13-6 at Suncorp Stadium.
Five-eighth Tyrone May faces an off-season of recovery after suffering an ACL injury in Penrith’s last game of the season.
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.