After what can only be described as a phenomenal season for the Penrith Panthers, their (and our) incredible journey ended last Sunday when the Melbourne Storm defeated them 26-20 in the 2020 NRL Grand Final.
After 17 straight wins, it was their first loss since June and it hurt the most. However even in the depths of despair the preparation for season 2021 began as soon as the full-time siren sounded.
Here are five reasons why I think the Panthers will win the competition next year.
1. The pain and anguish the players felt in those first few minutes after the game finished will drive them. It will fuel their fire over the off-season to go one step further in 2021 and this time not only make the big dance but do the Cha-Cha!
2. The Panthers’ spine will not change next year. The ever-improving Dylan Edwards will be fullback, Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary will be the halves and Api Koroisau the hooker. These combinations worked so well in 2020 and will work even better in 2021.
3. There will be a new attacking coach for next season, which will also help shake things up and ensure the Panthers don’t become predictable or stale. What worked so well this year won’t work at all next season unless changes are made. Opposition sides will face different attacking patterns next year and I can’t wait to see it.
4. As well as having the same spine, apart from departing skipper James Tamou, the Panthers will field much the same starting 17. This stability will not only help build and strengthen combinations further but any player promoted into the first grade side, will come from within the Penrith production line – another big advantage.
5. One year older, one year wiser. 2020 rookies such as Charlie Staines, Matt Burton and Daine Laurie all had a taste of first grade and showed they were more than ready for it. Staines is a speed machine, Laurie can play a variety of positions and well, we all know what Matt Burton can do. His move into the forwards next year could be the making of him.
The final word….
You have to lose one to win one right? That’s what they all say. Well if this team can follow the fortunes of a Panthers team which went through a similar heartache in 1990, then all Penrith supporters will have a smile on their face in 12 months’ time.
Make no mistake Panthers fans, this team will not falter in 2021.
They will not let the weight of expectation bury them or let the loss to Melbourne define them.
They will use the pain of defeat for a purpose. They will come back, bigger, better and stronger than ever.
For that’s the power of a Panther.
See you all next year!
Peter Lang is an experienced writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.