Panthers CEO of Rugby League Matt Cameron told me recently; “I’m trying to keep Penrith from making other teams better”.
How sides do that is by signing players in the Panthers’ system, particularly in the first grade side.
Although, Dolphins half and young gun Isaiya Katoa is a classic example of a player who showed enormous potential and one Penrith were desperate to keep.
It’s scary when you sit down and collate just how many good players (some great) have left the Panthers over the last five years alone.
During those five years the side has finished; 2018 (semi-finalist), 2019 (10th), 2020 (Grand Final runner-up), 2021 (Premiers), and 2022 (Premiers). As you can see, apart from 2019, every other year has seen a successful season for the club.
Success unfortunately also means that a player’s value increases exponentially if they’re in a consistently winning first grade side. Even if their contribution is not always considerably note-worthy.
To not get too silly about it, I decided to put together a starting 13 NRL team from all the players who have left or been let go by Penrith only since 2018.
The side looks something like this:
1. Daine Laurie 2. Charlie Staines 3. Brent Naden 4. Paul Momirovski 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Matt Burton 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Jack Hetherington 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kurt Capewell 13. J’maine Hopgood.
Other noteworthy players I couldn’t fit in were Wayde Egan, Waqa Blake, Jed Cartwright, Corey Harawira-Naera and Robert Jennings.
Now while the side I put together above probably wouldn’t win any premierships, it’s hard to deny it could hold its own against most sides in the NRL competition this year.
I didn’t even bother to include Tevita Pangai Junior, who played just six matches with Penrith in 2021 as he really was only ever a loan player.
Now let’s dissect the team I put together a little bit more.
Matt Burton and Api Koroisau are current Origin players, Viliame Kikau (when fit) is one of the most damaging second-rowers in the game, J’maine Hopgood is perhaps the Eels’ most consistent forward while Reagan Campbell-Gillard would probably have played Origin this year if not for injury.
There are a couple of players perhaps lucky to make my starting 13 but every single player in the team I put together has played first grade this season.
What’s scary for other teams is that despite Penrith haemorrhaging not only topline players over the last five years but also many promising juniors, is that the Panthers are still a top four side and show no signs of being less competitive over the next few years at least, if not longer.
It’s a reflection of not only all the good work Matt Cameron is doing but the entire set-up at the Panthers.
Something all NRL clubs would love to have.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.