It’s time for our annual Western Weekender Extra Time Awards. Here’s our year’s best:
Player of the Year: Stephen Crichton
In his final season at the club, it’s hard not to go with the ‘human highlight reel’ for our Player of the Year for 2023. Whether it was for Penrith or the NSW Blues, Crichton was simply outstanding this season, appearing in 24 games for the Panthers and scoring 15 tries and 21 goals. The 23-year-old also took out Centre of the Year at the Dally M Awards last week and scored a pivotal try in Penrith’s Grand Final triumph over the Broncos on Sunday. After 100 games in Panthers’ colours, Critta leaves the club with a bucket load of memorable moments and three Premiership rings.
2022 winner: Dylan Edwards
Rookie of the Year: Sunia Turuva
What can you say about the man everyone calls ‘Tito’. Sunia Turuva wasn’t meant to play much first grade in 2023, but an injury to Taylan May in the pre-season saw Turuva elevated into coach Ivan Cleary’s starting side for Round 1 and he remained there ever since. The Fijian flyer played 26 matches for the Panthers this season, scoring 12 tries including three in the Finals. What made Turuva’s season so special is no task was too big for him. No matter who he matched up against or how many bomb kicks were sent his way, the 21-year-old winger handled everything with ease. The NRL also recognised Turuva with their Rookie of the Year award at last week’s Dally M’s
2022 winner: Taylan May
Win of the Year: v Broncos, Grand Final
The greatest Panthers game of all-time has to take out our ‘Win of the Year’, right? No matter how many years pass by no-one will ever forget Penrith’s incredible victory over the Brisbane Broncos at the 2023 NRL Grand Final. Penrith led Kevin Walters’ men 8-6 at half-time before Ezra Mam laid on three scintillating tries to give the Broncos an almost untouchable 24-8 lead. With their backs against the wall and with less than 20 minutes to go, halfback Nathan Cleary orchestrated the most remarkable comeback in Grand Final history. Tries to Moses Leota, Stephen Crichton and Cleary himself put the Panthers in front in the dying stages and the rest they say is history. A win that will be hard to top in the years and seasons to come for Penrith.
2022 winner: v Rabbitohs, Round 23
Moment of the Year: Nathan Cleary’s 76th minute try
How often do we see it? Champion players in champion moments. While Penrith scored dozens of special tries this season, Nathan Cleary’s Grand Final-winning try stands above them all. Not only was the four-pointer crucial in Penrith’s ultimate three-peat, but it was mind-blowing at the same time. It was a moment of individual brilliance that fans of the game will remember forever. Along with Royce Simmons’ try in ’91 and Stephen Crichton’s intercept three decades later, Cleary’s 76th minute miracle will go down as one of the most important tries in Panthers history.
2022 winner: Panthers go back-to-back
Headline Event of the Year: Panthers secure historic three-peat
It took 40 long years for another team to do it, but Penrith winning three consecutive NRL Premierships is the story of the year. Many said a three-peat couldn’t be done during the salary cap era, but in stepped those mighty Panthers. With Ivan Cleary steering the ship and Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo doing what they do best, Penrith lived up to the hype to notch up their third NRL Premiership in as many years and their fifth title overall. They became the first side since Parramatta in the early 1980s to secure the honour.
2022 winner: Panthers win all four grades