SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 06: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (R) of the Panthers celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the round 22 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Wests Tigers at Pepper Stadium on August 6, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Panthers came into 2017 on the back of a brilliant campaign the year prior and many, myself included, thought they could challenge for a top four spot as a result. Unfortunately for fans at the foot of the mountains that did not happen.

A slow start saw them at 6-7 in the opening 14 rounds (with a bye) and a real chance of missing the finals. A seven-game winning streak ultimately saw them qualify, and a first-round win against Manly had many believing they could achieve after all.

Brisbane ended their season in the second week of the finals while captain Matt Moylan sat on the sidelines, seemingly bound for either Manly or Cronulla. Meanwhile recently release Te-Marie Martin went on an absolute tear up north for the Cowboys. This combined for a bitter end to their 2017.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Panthers have a superstar, marquee signing on the books, have moved the Moylan distraction on and have a fully fit and firing Bryce Cartwright ready to return to his best. They may very well enter 2018 as they did 2017, with plenty of hope for success.

Recruitment Grading: B-

Despite a large turnover of players, the only genuine game-changing move was a straight swap deal involving Matt Moylan to bring James Maloney to the Panthers. The move provides an experienced, successful, number six to partner and mentor young Nathan Cleary. The Panthers number seven was forced to overplay his hand at times in 2017 after the Panthers struggled to find a full-time halves partner for him. Maloney will provide a second play-making and kicking option which should allow Cleary much more freedom. Maloney’s experience and history of success is a brilliant tool in ensuring Cleary reaches his full potential. They’ve given up a talented player in Moylan, but it was a risk that should pay off in a big way.

Star Player: Nathan Cleary

The Panthers have a stacked roster. They have an all-star forward pack, an exciting number one, big and fast outside backs, an experienced number nine, and two star halves. Their star man is undoubtedly their 20-year-old number seven. There is talk of Cleary debuting for NSW under Brad Fittler this season, but his early focus will be purely on his club form. If he can start 2018 as he finished 2017 then the Panthers are in good shape. As mentioned above, Maloney’s signing will assist Cleary both on and off the field. He has a brilliant opportunity, supreme talent and the world at his feet. 2018 could be his year.

Strength: Attacking brilliance

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Penrith has point scoring potential that is downright scary. Dylan Edwards is a magician at the back. Mansour is arguably the most destructive winger in the game. DWZ can score tries from anywhere. The halves abilities are well documented. Cartwright and Corey Harawira-Naera are two of the most potent try-scoring back rowers in the competition. There is no shortage of try-scoring options and they will certainly cross the line with regularity. If they can hit their straps early on, they could really start 2018 with a bang. Games against the Dogs, Souths and Titans across the opening six rounds are very winnable. However, with two games against the Eels in the same time-frame as well as a clash with the Cowboys, the pressure may be on from literally kick off.

Weakness: Defensive frailty

James Maloney is an attacking genius. He can break the line at any given time. He is a point scoring machine and will improve the Panthers greatly. Bryce Cartwright is one of the most talented, young back-rowers I’ve seen in many years. He can pass, run and kick like a half, yet bust tackles and offload like a forward. Unfortunately neither are known as defensive specialists by any stretch. Expect the Panthers to miss a mountain of tackles in 2018 as teams target Maloney, Cleary and Cartwright. The Panthers conceded plenty of points last year and despite their ability to score points freely, will have to tighten up the defensive side of their game.

Prediction: 5th

I almost clicked submit with the Panthers ranked fourth but the defensive side of their game just poses too many questions for a definite top four prediction. I have no doubt Penrith will be one of the better sides this year, certainly one of the more entertaining, but a quick run over their fixture list had me thinking they’ll probably win 14/15 games.

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That tally would see them finish equal with the Sharks or Manly in 5th/6th position if 2018 follows the 2017 table. In 2017 they won 13 games after a horror start which should provide a rough reference.

Cartwright’s return is exciting and should provide an avenue of attack that wasn’t there last season. That alone should lead to competition points.

Maloney and Cleary’s combination is obviously key. I can’t see it failing by any stretch, but we’re going to hear a lot about the Maloney/Moylan switch deal this season and beyond.

I’m confident the Panthers will play finals footy but just miss the top four. If they can snag an extra win or two and finish in fourth position, with a fully firing side, they can worry anyone at the business end of the season.

Penrith Panthers 2018 Player Movements

2018 Gains
Caleb Aekins (2020), Christian Crichton (2021), Adam Keighran (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2020), James Maloney (Cronulla Sharks, 2020), Liam Martin (2021), Chad O'Donnell (2018), Joey Peato (2018), Tyrone Phillips (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2019), Paea Pua (2019), Maika Sivo (2020), Jayden Walker (Cronulla Sharks, 2018)
2018 Losses
Sitaleki Akauola (Warrington Wolves), Bryce Cartwright (Gold Coast Titans), Zach Dockar-Clay (Hull Kingston Rovers), Peta Hiku (New Zealand Warriors), Samisoni Langi (Catalan Dragons), Leilani Latu (Gold Coast Titans), Te Maire Martin (North Queensland Cowboys), Matt Moylan (Cronulla Sharks), Darren Nicholls (St George Illawarra Dragons), Michael Oldfield (Canberra Raiders), Mitch Rein (Gold Coast Titans), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (Wests Tigers)
Wayde Egan (2019), Corey Harawira-Naera (2022), Sione Katoa (2019), Viliame Kikau (2022), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (2020), Dean Whare (2022)
Off Contract 2019
Jed Cartwright, Wayde Egan, Tim Grant, Sione Katoa, Sam McKendry, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak


  1. The Panthers should finish in the top 4 (despite the best efforts of “Fred and Barney”).

    All better now panthers2017? Are we good now?

  2. Thought I might add my preview for each team for every ZT preview article. You might not be interested in my opinion but its enjoyable and fun for me to do.

    Top 4, anything less would be a bad season in my eyes. They have got everything where they need it and Maloney usually wins premierships or at least makes Grand finals at his new clubs, he brings that winning culture. My competition dark horse and if they dont win this year they will next year.

    My Panthers preview
    Best player: Cleary
    Best buy: Maloney
    Finish: 3rd

    • Then Paul Gallen must already be at the bottom of the hill as he turns 37 in August! Also, Cam Smith and Billy Slater turn 35 in June, Cooper Cronk is 34 and Luke Lewis (who turns 35 in August) has played some of the best football of his career in the last 2 years. There are always exceptions to every rule sammy. My point being that I do not believe that Maloney is passed it and he will revitalise the Panthers and bring so much to Cleary’s game. The Sharks also were sub-par in 2017 so it doesn’t all just hang on Maloney’s shoulders. Benji Marshall on the other hand (who turns 33 in Feb.) is spent!

      • Smith and Slater are future immortals, Cronk is ultra professional who looks after himself like nobody else, Gallen and Lewis are forwards who don’t rely on speed like halves do….. Maloney doesn’t fall into any of the above buckets

        • Maloney has never been fast or a great defender. What he does have is great organisational skills and a great kicking game. When he won a premiership at the sharks in 2016 he didnt have the most try assists or anything like that. The reason why he’s so good is because he can guide a team around the park taking pressure of Cleary.
          And the panthers got the better deal with the maloney – moylan swap

  3. My Panthers Prediction:

    Strength: Scary young attack with plenty of potential to put many points on the board.

    Weakness: Inexperienced weak defence.

    Player Of The Year: Nathan Cleary

    Most Improved: Bryce Cartwright

    Rookie Of The Year: Wayde Egan

    Predicted Finish: 6th

    Summary: Penrith have a really exciting young team who are a year or 2 away from being the invincibles in the Nrl. I expect them to be amongst the top point scoring teams in the league but also at the top for most points conceded. However this makes for exciting footy. Expect Cleary, Edwards, Cartwright & Campbell-Gillard to raise their game and bring Panthers whiskers away from a top 4 spot. However their lack of defencing abilities and experience will cost them against the great teams like Storm, Cowboys & Roosters. Wayde Egan is the rookie to look out for as if Wallace gets injured he’d be given a good chance to debut since Gus likes to get his youngsters out and early and if given his chance will prove hard to drop.

  4. I believe that Penrith will make the top 4, after that it becomes who wants it more, Maloney is a class player who will lead this team to a grand final , this side needs a player like him and at 32 he has a lot to offer in coming years, this club can become a powerhouse if they identify their juniors and not let clubs steal them, especially Easts, sorry couldn’t help myself there, they should be a threat for many years.

  5. I think they are a deadest certainty for the top 4. Could even be a Penrith grand final appearance this season.

  6. Predicted finish 5th.
    Player of the year Dylan Edwards.
    Season summary; Cleary and his team struggle for consistency as the young half is targeted weekly by opposition teams.

    • If the Panthers halves combination click (and I am sure that they will) there is little doubt that Cleary and Maloney will be the halves pairing for NSW in SOO this year. The Panthers may have struggled for consistency in 2017 but from what I remember that was not the fault of young Cleary who is a genuine talent and handles pressure well.

      • Who YOU waxed lyrical about while I tried to warn you that Moylan was a dud and overrated. Now admit it, you were wrong and I was right.

        • No holmsey, panthers2017 talked Moylan up deluxe and he crashed and burned (apart from a good game here or there) and then he left the team to have a sulk when they needed him most. She was wrong and I was right. I have admitted if I have been wrong, panthers2017 never has. Don’t rob them of the opportunity now.

        • Good to see that you’re blowing your own trumpet SSTID_1970. Moylan, when his heart was in it, was great. His prima doona antics was evident, as was his lack of professionalism. He sulked when he was punished for breaking team rules. I am glad that he is gone.

        • Fair enough panthers2017… I’ll take that as an admission that you were wrong and I was right and as your mea culpa then. πŸ˜‰

          Let’s move on. No point living in the past with “Fred and Barney”. LOL

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