2022 NRL Grand Final - Panthers v Eels
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 02: The Panthers celebrate with the NRL Premiership Trophy after victory in the 2022 NRL Grand Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium on October 02, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For three seasons now, the Penrith Panthers have been the absolute pinnacle of the NRL.

Two premierships, three grand final appearances, two minor premierships and a junior system that would make any rival club envious.

The club trounced Parramatta 28-12 in last year's decider, and that was a kind result after the Panthers ran in three tries in the opening 27 minutes, a subtle display of the gap between Penrith and the rest of the competition.

MORE: Get your Penrith Panthers 2023 Season Guide NOW!

However, two monumental departures in Apisai Koroisau and Viliame Kikau will bring the club crashing back down to some extent, or at least in line with rival contenders.

They've still got bona fide superstars in Nathan Cleary, Brian To'o, Isaah Yeo, and endless more representative stars, and as soon as one departs, there's a host of junior ready to snap up the vacancy in the club's 17.

No club has completed a three-peat since Parramatta in the early 1980's, and another premiership this season will confirm Penrith as the best team of the NRL era.

Recruitment report

Ins: Jack Cogger (Huddersfield Giants, 2023), Luke Garner (Wests Tigers, 2024), Zac Hosking(Brisbane Broncos, 2024), Jesse McLean (2026), Tyrone Peachey (Wests Tigers, 2023)

Outs: J'maine Hopgood (Parramatta Eels), Robert Jennings (The Dolphins), Viliame Kikau(Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Apisai Koroisau (Wests Tigers), Sean O'Sullivan (The Dolphins), Charlie Staines (Wests Tigers)

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 11: Luke Garner of the Tigers takes on the defence during the round five NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium on April 11, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Recruitment impact

You can't replace the impact Apisai Koroisau and Viliame Kikau have had on this team over the past three years, but surround recruits or youngsters with talent, and they can grow towards it.

Soni Luke will snatch a bench spot as he looks to become the club's new explosive hooker, while Luke Garner is tipped to fill the Kikau-shaped hole on the left. Tyrone Peachey has rejoined the club, but isn't tipped to feature in the best 17.

Key talking points
Is a three-peat beyond their reach?
No club has done it since the Parramatta Eels in the early 1980's, so it begs the question, can the Panthers pull off the coveted three-peat?

They certainly have enough weapons in their arsenal even without Viliame Kikau and Api Koroisau, but they'll be hunted more than ever.

The last time to win consecutive premierships, the Sydney Roosters, were shaping well before injuries and the COVID break derailed their season. The Panthers certainly have enough in their roster to do it.

Can the club cover the loss of Api Koroisau?
There is no better way to sum up Koroisau's importance to this team than last year's preliminary final against South Sydney, when Mitch Kenny started the match.

The Rabbitohs led 12-0 while Kenny played hooker. Enter Api. Penrith won the remainder of the match 32-0, completely shifting the tide after coming onto the pitch.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 03: Apisai Koroisau passes during a New South Wales Blues State of Origin training session at NSWRL Centre of Excellence on June 03, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

A lot of pressure will be heaped onto Soni Luke, with Kenny's attacking game limited compared to the Fijian international. It'll take some adjusting at Penrith.

Will the club fight off the injury curse again?
The Panthers have had a great run in recent years in terms of their casualty ward, and despite some short-term injuries at the club, they've avoided losing their stars long-term.

Taylan May's knee injury sustained in the World Club Challenge was the first ACL tear at the club in five years, an outstanding achievement and credit to their medical department.

While everyone talks about losing Kikau and Koroisau, players like Charlie Staines, Robert Jennings, Isaiya Katoa, J'maine Hopgood and Sean O'Sullivan have also left Penrith, meaning they can ill-afford to lose a star.

Star player - Nathan Cleary
It feels like a matter of when, not if, Nathan Cleary will win his maiden Dally M, between his foot and his mind, he's on another level right now.

The halfback had an interrupted season last year, missing the opening rounds after a shoulder reconstruction, before missing the final month of the regular season through suspension.

As dominant as they come, Cleary will again pin the club on his shoulders in 2023.

Player under pressure - Mitch Kenny 
The premiership-winner has his own devoted fan club already, however the pressure is on Mitch Kenny to retain the starting spot as Soni Luke breathes down his neck.

The No. 9 made 50 tackles against St Helens, missing five, and recording just 50 metres throughout the match. It's not a completely low figure in terms of metres, but Kenny doesn't have Koroisau's quick feet when it comes to splitting markers and taking off.

He'll need a big start to the season, and to play a key role in their offence, to remove Luke's pressure building on him.

Breakout star - Sunia Turuva
The 20-year-old lit it up for Fiji midway through last season against Papua New Guinea, announcing himself to the rugby league world with a stellar display before going onto his NRL debut with Penrith.

PNG v Fiji - Men's International
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 25: Sunia Turuva of Fiji passes during the Men's International Test Match between Papua New Guinea and Fiji at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on June 25, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Turuva is in competition with Jesse McLean for Taylan May's vacant wing spot, and will use 2023 to springboard into a potential role in the centres next season when Stephen Crichton departs.

The ball is in Turuva's court now as the Panther looks to not just lock down a spot for this year, but permanently in the club's backline.

2023 Draw impact

The Penrith Panthers will travel the fourth-least of any club in the NRL, however their trips Arne't minor ones, with just over 20% of their season played in Queensland.

Penrith will play all four Queensland clubs at their respective home venues, as well as the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium in Magic Round, and a match in Melbourne.

They receive an early bye in Round 3, and will only play one game without their Origin brigade, against the also-depleted Cowboys in Townsville.

Fixtures to watch:
Round 2 vs South Sydney Rabbitohs, BlueBet Stadium, 8:00pm AEDT, Thursday March 9

The Rabbitohs really tested Penrith in the preliminary final last year, and with no Api Koroisau to be injected into the match, the Bunnies will be hunting their second win against the Panthers since the beginning of 2020.

There's been a budding rivalry formed between the two sides with Penrith eliminating Souths three years in a row from the finals, and leading into a bye for Penrith, should be an early-season belter.

Round 21 vs Canterbury Bulldogs, BlueBet Stadium, 2:00pm AEST, Sunday July 23
Another growing rivalry, the Belmore-based club have jokingly been labeled the 'Canterbury Panthers' after snaring Stephen Crichton to join Viliame Kikau and Matt Burton at the club, alongside Cameron Ciraldo and Gus Gould.

NRL Rd 19 - Bulldogs v Titans
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Matt Burton of the Bulldogs celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the round 19 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Titans at CommBank Stadium, on July 24, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Both sides should be back to near full-strength following the Origin period, and in their first meeting since Crichton signed on the dotted line. Not to mention it'll pit Kikau against Liam Martin, expect fireworks.

Round 27 vs North Queensland Cowboys, BlueBet Stadium, 5:30pm AEST, Saturday September 2

This could well be the battle for the minor premiership as Penrith host the Cowboys in the final round of the regular season.

The two met twice last year, a 22-0 win to Penrith at home, before the Cowboys beat them in the final round - minus almost their entire first-grade side.

Both teams are tipped to go far in 2023, and this could be a litmus test for both sides a week out from the finals.


Jack Blyth
Penrith are classed as one of the greatest modern day NRL sides for good reason. After going back-to-back, and making a grand final the year prior, they are poised for an absolute dynasty.

The club continues to lose talent to rivals, a sign the salary cap is working, but their junior development is on another level. They have talented youngsters bursting through the seams, and while Taylan May has done his ACL, there's at least four gun youngsters waiting in line.

The real test is how the halves handle the loss of Api Koroisau, and the pressure he took off them. Viliame Kikau is a two-time Dally M Second-Rower of the Year, but despite the monumental losses, expect another big dance appearance in 2023.


Dan Nichols
The fact that the Panthers are short-priced favourites to win a third straight title says everything. This was once seen as impossible, now it's seen as likely to happen.

From 1 to 17, this Penrith side is stacked. They've lost arguably the best wide running second rower in the game and a top three hooker yet still look near unbeatable.

2023 is surely the year that Nathan Cleary finally takes out the Dally M medal. On the back of yet another Cleary masterclass, it's hard to see how this side could possibly fail.


Scott Pryde