Masked Panther: Penrith could spend longer away from home

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Stadium homecoming could take two years

The thought Penrith will only be away from BlueBet Stadium for one season while the venue undergoes a major upgrade is best put in the ‘wishful thinking’ category.

It is more likely the Panthers will return to the venue mid-way through the 2026 season, which means more time on the road and, with any luck, a heavy home schedule at the back end of that season.

But it’s important to note that construction delays, particularly around weather, could ultimately see this blow out and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility Penrith is away for two years.

An artist's impression of the new-look Penrith Stadium.
An artist’s impression of the new-look Penrith Stadium.


Jarome Luai diving into some strawberries like they were going out of fashion at the Panthers season launch in February.

Surprise wedding

A huge congratulations to Penrith Pantherettes choreographer and former cheerleader Kati Manning, who married her partner Justin in a surprise wedding over the off-season.

Off-season engagement

Luke Garner is not the only one in his household with a ring on his finger. The 2023 Grand Final winner popped the question to his partner Ash during the off-season – and she said yes!

Luke Garner and is partner Ash.

Merch move questioned

I had a lot of feedback over the off-season about the new way merchandise packs for members happened this year. In short, there’s no longer a set pack and instead members are provided a value and can pick from a whole range of items, including personalised products.

I liked the concept – The Masked Panther does not need another hat to add to his collection – but the website was atrocious and therefore the end user experience felt poor.

Early exit

We noticed a couple of high profile Panthers players exited the premiere of the ‘Undisputed’ documentary at the EVAN Theatre well before it ended. Only the first episode was shown and it was less than an hour – it’s surprising they didn’t stay.

Cullen cringe

There’s some moments you just wish you could take back and I reckon Alex Cullen had one of those at the Panthers season launch. Cullen, who works at Channel Nine and was MC for the evening, asked Nathan Cleary about his relationship with Mary Fowler. Cleary played a straight bat but it’s well known he’s doing this best to keep the relationship out of the public eye. The Penrith captain would expect to be asked such questions by journos out and about – but it was pretty rough to be asked about it on his home turf.

Priority signings

I’d be very surprised if Penrith didn’t announce new deals for Mitch Kenny and Sunia Turuva in the early part of the season. Both are off-contract at the end of 2024 but there’s no real fear either will leave the club.

With Jarome Luai’s hefty salary now off the books for 2025 and beyond, Penrith can start to shore up other talent. Taylan May is the one with a question mark over his head – a unique character, it’s hard to know exactly where his future lies for 2025.

Sunia Turuva is ready for a big 2024. Photo: NRL Photos.

The good – and bad – old days

It was intriguing to listen to podcasts over the summer featuring Max Cowan and Glenn Matthews, who were both big figures at Panthers through the 1990s and 2000s.

They both had some intriguing things to say about the past, present and future. In both cases it’s still clear they have Panthers in the blood, even if there were some rough times.

You can search Western Weekender wherever you listen to podcasts to hear both episodes of ‘On The Record’.


Player of the Year

I can reveal a new Panthers award will be handed out this year with The Western Weekender running an unofficial Player of the Year concept through the season.

2003 Clive Churchill Medal winner Luke Priddis along with Weekender contributor Peter Lang, NRL journalist Nathan Taylor and Managing Editor Troy Dodds will vote on a 3, 2 and 1 basis each week – meaning 12 points is available in each Penrith game.

A ladder and latest scoring will be available in the paper each week.

Got some gossip?

As always, I don’t keep secrets but I do protect my sources. If you’ve heard a rumour, want to share a secret or you’ve spotted a player out and about, tell me about it at [email protected].

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