The dust had barely settled on the Panthers’ emphatic 28-12 win over the Eels last Sunday when Penrith supporters, myself included, started to think about one more waltz at the big dance in 2023.
Yep, I’m talking about a sporting feat which is hard to achieve but not impossible and that’s winning premierships three years in a row.
Now I know what you’re all thinking. I’m getting carried away with the back-to-back Premiership win and the endorphins going off in my head are making me say stupid things.
But let’s look at it logically for a moment. Sure, two key players are leaving the team. Two superstar players in Villiame Kikau and Apisai Koroisau. However, most of the team will still be the same next year.
First up is recently crowned Clive Churchill winner Dylan Edwards, he’ll be back, as will Brian To’o, Izack Tago, Stephen Crichton, Taylan May, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary, James Fisher-Harris, Mitch Kenny, Moses Leota, Liam Martin, Scott Sorensen, Isaah Yeo and Spencer Leniu.
Not a bad group of players if you ask me. The only doubt is over Jaeman Salmon, who is yet to re-sign.
A look at the coaching staff shows that both assistant coaches in Cameron Ciraldo and Andrew Webster are moving on to take-up head coaching roles elsewhere but the main man, head coach Ivan Cleary is also going nowhere.
Now while Api cannot be replaced, there are two players who can fill the breach and yes, it will take both Mitch Kenny and Soni Luke to cover for Koroisau’s loss. I think both Kenny and Luke can do it as a combo. Kenny with his defence and Luke with his running game.
As for the backrow loss of Kikau, well, again the signing of Luke Garner will help fill the void and once again, if he works in tandem with Scott Sorensen, problem solved.
At the end of the day, it’s good to have a small turnover of players each year. It keeps everyone hungry. Don’t forget Penrith did win the NSW Cup, Jersey Flegg and SG Ball Grand Finals as well.
There’s some pretty handy players waiting for their opportunity, while a few new faces in the coaches box will also keep things fresh in the coaching department.
Bring on the three-peat.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.