Let me preface this by saying I’m an independent observer of the Panthers. I do love the loaded fries at the Panthers bistro, but I’m a supporter of another club so I come to this with genuine objectivity.
Phil Gould’s five-year plan might have been extended a few times, but 2019 will be the year.
The Panthers spent much of 2018 in the top four and were only knocked out in the second week of the finals by a point. That’s a remarkable achievement given coach Anthony Griffin was sacked so late in the season.
This year the team has a coach who can take them the extra step.
Penrith were the comeback kings of 2018, on no fewer than eight occasions they came back from being 10 points down, many of those games deep in the second half. Had the semi-final against Cronulla run another five minutes they would’ve played in a Grand Final qualifier.
Returning coach Ivan Cleary will tighten up their first half defence but the side will retain its attacking flair.
The Panthers have a forward pack that is quite frankly frightening for other teams. While Trent Merrin has moved on, Viliame Kikau is only just warming up and, in 2019, could well be the most destructive forward in the game.
Nathan Cleary will be another year wiser but the key is James Maloney, he is an out and out winner. If rumours are correct that this could be his last year in the NRL before moving onto the UK Super League, he’ll be wanting to ensure he does what he did at the Warriors, Roosters and Sharks, take his team to a Grand Final.
Come Sunday, October 6, it will be the Panthers doing the lap of honour at ANZ.
Clinton Maynard is an experienced radio presenter currently working with Macquarie Sports Radio.