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)

The Penrith Panthers have won two premierships on the hop, and will be out to make it three in 2023, but their best 17 has taken something of a beating over the off-season.

High-profile departures headline the issues the men from the foot of the mountains will face in the new year, with Viliame Kikau and Apisai Koroisau the two key men heading to new clubs.

That is not helped with continuity at the club by the off-field departures of assistant coaching duo Cameron Ciraldo and Andrew Webster, who have taken head coaching roles at the Canterbury Bulldogs and New Zealand Warriors respectively.

Penrith are well aware that it's the price of success they are paying though, and the club have the game's best academy which will keep firing out talent for the campaign ahead. This is the same academy that produced four premiership-winning sides last year in the NRL, NSW Cup, Jersey Flegg and Harold Matthews.

They have also made some intriguing signings who it will be one of the big questions this year over whether they fit in at the club.

Here is how Ivan Cleary's side will likely line-up in 2023.

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)

Re-signed: Eddie Blacker (2023), Nathan Cleary (2027), Dylan Edwards (2024), Matthew Eisenhuth (2024), Mitch Kenny (2024), Taylan May (2024), Jaeman Salmon (2023), Chris Smith (2023), Lindsay Smith (2024), Izack Tago (2025), Sunia Turuva (2024)

Off-contract 2023: Eddie Blacker, Jack Cogger, Mavrik Geyer, Thomas Jenkins, Spencer Leniu, Soni Luke, Tyrone Peachey, Preston Riki, Jaeman Salmon, Chris Smith, Scott Sorensen

Full squad

Eddie Blacker, Nathan Cleary, Jack Cogger, Jack Cole, Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards, Matthew Eisenhuth, James Fisher-Harris, Luke Garner, Liam Henry, Zac Hosking, Thomas Jenkins, Mitch Kenny, Spencer Leniu, Moses Leota, Jarome Luai, Soni Luke, Liam Martin, Taylan May, Jesse McLean, Tyrone Peachey, Jaeman Salmon, Chris Smith, Lindsay Smith, Scott Sorensen, Izack Tago, Brian To'o, Sunia Turuva, Isaah Yeo

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Luke Garner of the Tigers watches on during the round two NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the New Zealand Warriors at Campbelltown Stadium on March 24, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Who plays where?

Fullback
As was the case last year, Dylan Edwards will once again run around with the number one on the back.

He may not be mentioned in the same breath as the other top fullbacks in the game, but make no mistake, he is in the conversation after an incredible 2022 campaign which saw him in calculations for the Australian Kangaroos squad ahead of the Rugby League World Cup in England.

The fullback doesn't have the ball-playing of other elite fullbacks, but nor does he need to in Penrith's system. He fits it like a glove, and will continue to dish out more of the same this year.

With Charlie Staines having departed to the Wests Tigers, the depth at fullback takes a hit, but Stephen Crichton and Sunia Turuva - who now has a first-grade spot - will be the men in line to move to the back if Edwards runs into injury issues.

Wingers

On the wing, the Panthers have taken a late shot, with Taylan May injuring his ACL during the World Club Challenge. As a result, he is now expected to miss the entire season with one of the longest injury recoveries in sport.

That means Brian To'o will switch back to his favoured left wing, and it could be a danger to every other club in the game after, by his standards, a quiet 2022 campaign.

The other wing spot is likely to be taken by young gun Sunia Turuva, who was set to have to bide his time in reserve grade once again this year before replacing Stephen Crichton - who is bound for the Bulldogs - next year.

Turuva can play any of wing, centre or fullback though and is an enormous talent.

Behind them, expect Thomas Jenkins to be in line for a debut at some point this year, while Jesse McLean, who has recently been upgraded to the top 30, could be in the same boat.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 24: Izack Tago of the Panthers celebrates with team mate Brian To'o after scoring a try during the NRL Preliminary Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Accor Stadium on September 24, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Centres

In the centres, Stephen Crichton and Izack Tago will line up as they did for a majority of the 2022 season. The duo both had excellent campaigns, and while Crichton is leaving at the end of the year, will be instrumental in the push for a three-peat.

If either of the duo need to be replaced at any point, Turuva being in the backline gives great flexibility, while youngster Jack Cole has reportedly been training at centre, much in the mould of Matt Burton during his time at the Panthers.

Thomas Jenkins' favoured position is at centre, while utility Tyrone Peachey is another option, as is Jaeman Salmon at a pinch.

Halves

Like so much of this Penrith side, there are few to no questions surrounding the halves combination, with double premiership-winners Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary looking to keep the Provan-Summons trophy at the foot of the mountains for another year.

They are under approximately zero pressure for their spots, and the only games they miss will be due to injury or Origin.

If they do miss games, they are going to be well backed up by Jack Cogger and Jack Cole, with Cogger the more experienced of the two, and Cole the young gun pushing for a debut at some point this year.

Cole played for the under-19 New South Wales Blues last year and is rated as an outstanding talent.

Tyrone Peachey and Jaeman Salmon are the other options who could slot into the halves.

2022 NRL Grand Final - Panthers v Eels
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 02: Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai of the Panthers celebrate with team mates during 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 Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Middle forwards

In the middle third, James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota will be the two starting props, as they were last year, while Isaah Yeo will continue his status as one of the best lock forwards in the game. He is also one of Penrith's co-captain's.

While the starting middle third's status in the team is untouched, it's the back-up brigade who not only provide a point of difference, but are all capable of starting.

Spencer Leniu and Scott Sorensen - who can also play on the edge but has spent a bulk of time in the middle during recent seasons - are both options, while Matt Eisenhuth can play either prop or lock.

Eddie Blacker, Chris Smith and Lindsay Smith are the other middle forwards in the side, with each bringing quality to Penrith across the grades as they bide their time waiting first-grade opportunities.

Hooker

The Panthers will employ a two-pronged dummy half approach this year after the departure of big gun Apisai Koroisau to the Wests Tigers.

Instead of the game's number one hooker, they will use Mitch Kenny, who is rated as a future club captain, and Soni Luke, who is explosive at the worst of times.

With Kenny's strength in defence and ability to play big minutes as a running lock later in the game, expect him to win a starting spot so that Luke can be used in an explosive role off the bench, best playing to his talents.

The Panthers have no other out and out dummy halves to fill the void if problems strike, but both Tyrone Peachey and Jaeman Salmon could play the hooking role if need be.

Second-row

On the edge, Luke Garner and Liam Martin will be the duo to take over after the departure of Viliame Kikau, who follows Kurt Capewell out the door, the now Broncos' edge forward having left the year before.

Martin, who is a New South Wales State of Origin player, found himself in the starting side for most of last year, while Garner has made the switch across from the Wests Tigers.

Scott Sorensen, who, as mentioned, now plays more middle than anywhere else, is still part of the back-up on the edge, while utilities Jaeman Salmon and Tyrone Peachey have both proven themselves as capable edge players.

Chris Smith is another who could line up out there in a pinch, but they are otherwise potentially a little short on depth.

Interchange

As already mentioned, Soni Luke will wear the number 14 jersey throughout the year as he makes up a two-pronged attack with Mitch Kenny.

Scott Sorensen and Spencer Leniu will resume their seats on the bench from last year, although there could be a push to find Leniu more game time if it's the difference that keeps him in Penrith, with the young forward exploring his options to move elsewhere in 2024.

Sorensen has also been linked with a move away from the club.

The final spot comes down to the two utilities who can both play on the edge, but the experience of Tyrone Peachey should have him - ever so marginally - ahead of Jaeman Salmon.

Panthers' best 17 for 2023

1. Dylan Edwards
2. Brian To'o
3. Izack Tago
4. Stephen Crichton
5. Sunia Turuva
6. Jarome Luai
7. Nathan Cleary
8. James Fisher-Harris
9. Mitch Kenny
10. Moses Leota
11. Luke Garner
12. Liam Martin
13. Isaah Yeo
14. Soni Luke
15. Scott Sorensen
16. Spencer Leniu
17. Tyrone Peachey