The hip hop music has been turned down, the champagne has stopped flowing, and the live Instagram videos have been switched off once and for all – the party is officially over at Panthers HQ with all eyes now firmly on the 2022 season ahead.
140 days since that wonderful October evening in Brisbane, defending NRL Premiers Penrith will finally hit the field this Sunday afternoon for their first pre-season trial against the new-look Cronulla Sharks.
While most of Penrith’s Grand Final-winning team won’t suit up for this weekend’s clash at CommBank Stadium, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary will be using the game to give his Jersey Flegg, NSW Cup and fringe first grade players a much-needed hit out.
After back-to-back seasons of disrupted footy due to COVID, several players will be desperate to prove their worth to coach Cleary in the hopes of securing a coveted NRL call-up during the year.
Two players who will no doubt be keen to be donning Panthers colours again are new recruits and familiar faces Sean O’Sullivan and Chris Smith.
The pair, who began their rugby league careers at Penrith before leaving for other opportunities elsewhere, both return to the foot of the Mountains this season on one-year deals – boosting the club’s depth after losing several key players in the off-season.
Keen-eyed Penrith supporters will enjoy seeing what 23-year-old O’Sullivan can produce in the halves this Sunday. With Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai certified Origin players and Matt Burton and Tyrone May departing the club, the talented Glenmore Park Brumbies junior is expected to play a key role for Penrith at various times this season.
Lead by new head coach Craig Fitzgibbon, Cronulla are also expected to field several of their lesser-known players this Sunday as they look to return to Finals footy after a year in the wilderness.
This Sunday’s match at Parramatta’s CommBank Stadium will be part of a double-header, with Penrith’s showdown against the Sharks kicking off at 4pm before the Eels and St George-Illawarra do battle at 6pm.
Tickets for Sunday’s game are available through Ticketek, with Penrith’s trial also set to be broadcast live on Fox League and Kayo Sports.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.