SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers looks dejected during the NRL Semi Final match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium on September 14, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

On the back of a fairly successful 2018 season, the Penrith Panthers have positioned themselves well for a genuine shot at the 2019 premiership.

After many months of ridiculous speculation, the Panthers finally landed their long-term coach with Ivan Cleary joining his son at the foot of the mountains for possibly the next decade.

The Panthers fell painfully short to the Sharks in last year’s final series despite some huge distractions off field.

They look much better placed to have a genuine crack at the title now than at any time during 2018.

The betting agencies have them at around $10/$12 to lift the title in 2019, which sets them at about fourth or fifth favourite, depending on which website.

I’d argue that they’re a little better placed than that, and without going too far into the season previews (which will drop mid Jan/early Feb) I have the Panthers WAY up there.

Nathan Cleary really matured outside of James Maloney. Maloney himself has a year in the Penrith system although his form fell off drastically in the second half of 2018.

Viliame Kikau was, for mine, the clear break out star of 2018. He became an absolute wrecking ball for Penrith and almost won that aforementioned game against the Sharks on his own, massive shoulders.

Penrith have signed most of their stars down to long-term contracts and are now the very model of stability.

Things look very, very good, but upon NRL.com’s releasing their predicted round one team, one aspect of the Panthers side is glaring; they look very light on up front.

Make no mistake, their starting pack is huge and it is intimidating, but it really lacks the depth and over all strength of their 2018 list.

Campbell-Gillard is a rep prop at any level. Kikau is a mega star and will emerge as one of the game’s elite forwards in the next year or two, if he’s not already.

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Yeo and Fisher-Harris hit harder than most and added real abilities stats to their resumes last season.

Tamou wound the clock back last season and looked like the former rep prop.

That said, I’m not sure that the Panthers big men rate up there with the very elite in the competition. Sides like the Roosters and Souths look the top of the pile, with the likes of the Cowboys, Broncos, Sharks and Storm the next level down, with the Panthers probably falling at the bottom half of that pile.

The Panthers lost Origin rep Tyrone Peachey to the Titans early last season. There were talks of Peach wanting out of his deal, but given the changes made to contract rules, that was never likely.

The huge moves happened late last season and for mine present a huge gamble by the mountain men.

They allowed Trent Merrin to walk away from the NRL and sign for Leeds in the Super League. Merrin didn’t have the most magnificent 2018 but he was hardly bad. He’s a rep forward who could play big minutes.

I’m not sure whether it was salary cap pressure, I suppose it absolutely had to be, but Merrin’s release certainly caught me off guard.

As much as that move surprised me, I could understand it. Merrin had a big money contract and his money could be used elsewhere. Makes sense.

The move that really shocked me was the Panthers allowing Corey Harawira-Naera to walk to the Bulldogs.

For the life of me I can’t understand why they allowed the 23 year-old long-time member of the club to go.

He was pushing for a run on spot, I’d have him in their personally, and I can’t see him being on a huge contract.

CHN is one of the game’s most fleet of foot second rowers with plenty of footwork and ball-playing ability. He knew his way to the try line and could bust a defensive line open from anywhere.

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His defence was rapidly improving and to be honest I can’t find a weakness in his game.

Unless he was offered a monster deal at the Dogs and the Panthers couldn’t morally stand in his way, I don’t know why they let him walk.

The Panthers are now sans Peachey, CHN and Merrin. One run on prop, and two bench forwards who should be run on forwards.

That’s a huge chunk of their 2018 pack that has been largely unaccounted for.

They’ve signed Tim Grant, Hame Sele, and Tyrell Fuimaono. All three are handy players but they’re not regular starters.

As a result their 2019 bench hardly strikes the fear into opposition coaches that the likes of the better packs do.

Jack Hetherington is their likely bench prop. He looks the goods but he’s only 22 and has just 13 games to his name.

Fuimanono will likely jag a spot. He looks talented but again, at 22, he only has 20 games to his name. The large majority from the bench.

Moses Leota is the third bench forward, with Wade Egan likely to be the bench utility. Again, 23, only 34 games under his belt.

That’s a bench pack with just 67 games to their name. Without having the exact stats, maybe 10 run on starts combined, and most of those would be Tyrell at centre.

If there is an injury to the run on pack, which of those players is bashing down the door to replace them?

Penrith have the most successful NSW Cup side of recent times and always seem to produce good, young forwards, but the names Leota and Hetherington will have to do battle with the likes of Woods and Buukuya when they play the Sharks. That Roosters bench is even better again.

I’m happy to be proven wrong, but as it stands the Panthers look very light on up front heading into 2019.

48 COMMENTS

  1. Griffin got Penrith close to the top four before he was sacked, I think that there is immense pressure upon Cleary so if they do not make the top four, which is still a big ask for this team then there could be some big changes in 2020.πŸŽ―πŸŽ±πŸŽ―πŸŽ±πŸŽ―βœ”

  2. Overrated, they will be lucky to make the bottom of the 8.
    Far too many games were fluked last season, 4 or 5 of them should have been losses.

    If Maloney goes down injured then they are stuffed.
    Cleary just doesn’t have the fortitude to close out tight games.

      • My comment is referring to 2019, what happened in 2016 to 2018 has ZERO baring at all.

        Cows GF in 2017, 13th in 2018.
        Eels Top 4 in 2017, Wooden Spooners in 2018.
        Anything is possible.

        Yourself and many other fans tipped my Rabbitohs to finish bottom 4 in 2018 as we finished 12th in both 2016 and 2017 yet the Rabbitohs finished equal First or 3rd on percentages in 2018.

        The facts are Cleary is still young and fails to finish off games.
        aka went missing against the Sharks in those “Clutch” moments.

        The Panthers are so light on upfront.
        Your 2 starting props are gone
        Merrin to England, Reagan Campbell-Gillard broken Jaw.
        James Tamou is getting on.
        Tyrone Peachey is a massive loss.
        Sam McKendry is also not the same player as 3 years ago.
        Yes, a few Polynesian players look good but they are so unreliable.
        They melt when the heat is on.

        Everyone knows that Forwards win games and your forwards are mediocre in 2019.
        We will see.

        • Yep, and tell me what the Eagles have achieved in the last three seasons, screamingeagle? Sam McKendry has barely played in the last three seasons. Merrin is no great loss, and neither is Tyrone Peachey, and there are plenty of younger players to chose from, 3 hats, and it does, as it means that the Panthers are improving, and with luck on the injury front, they could go all the way this year.

    • With the team and coach wabbits have this year, I’d be a lot more concerned about them making the 8 then panthers.
      Rabbits have no depth at all this year and are 1 injury away from competing with dogs for wooden spoon.

      • Um Bob, do you really think it’s the Bunnies that a “depth” problem, and maybe an injury away from a spoon, or did you think you were commenting on a Manly article?

        • No no, manly are lacking depth for sure, but I admit it, he thinks rabbits are untouchable so it’s good pointing things out to him. Wasn’t a stir either, rabbits are lacking depth this year big time.
          But while we’re on it have eels recruited 22 new players for 2019?

        • Yep, I’m the first to admit we have our issues.
          Having so many players off contract at the end of 2019, as is the case with Manly, could be a bonus, or it could be a curse.
          I have a list of players I definately don’t want to lose, some that I’d prefer to retain, at least as much because of their loyalty to the club as their actually performance, and some that I’d like to move on from.

        • Yes a good clean out is in order on both our parts atleast we got rid of the β€œWright’s” this year.

        • Don’t forget lewis brown is also finally gone too. He was one of barretts failed disciples. What a waste of money he and nate miles were!

        • They are going to off load Johnstone because Bennett is moving him to the flank which means that fat winger Jennings will be re-signed. Where is Penz0 now that Souths are letting his beloved home grown local juniors go for the sake of keeping a fat importπŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜†πŸ€£πŸ€£

        • Oh yes how could I forget Lewis brown. See we have improved already and all we done was let go a couple players.

      • Bob Fulton, put the hash pipe down mate.
        You say the Rabbitohs have no depth?
        What ROT!

        The Rabbitohs have signed some fantastic up and comers for 2019.

        Fans from every club who don’t get an opportunity to watch games in the ISP and the Jersey Flegg are always of that opinion until these kids get their chance in First Grade.

        • So the rabbits are filled with young junior champions just needing a crack, but all other 15 teams of non playing regular first graders are all useless.
          Face it. No back up half, no props whatsoever a couple backs who will get you by, but that’s it. Rabbits have a decent at best, best 13 then very ordinary 14-30.
          I don’t pick the squads I just say it as is

        • Your comment regarding ISP and Jersey Flegg players confirms the fool you are 3hats..please have a look at the Panthers results in both those competitions, and while you’re at it have a look at ALL Penrith’s junior results. One of the the reasons the Rabbits did so well last year is the fact that they only had Mr average Gagai playing S.O.O. The big talking point around them at the moment is who is going to play fullback?..old bad legs Inglis or Johnson?. They will make the 8..just..

  3. N Cleary is bog average and overrated…he did nothing in the SOO, but was lauded for his performances… watch him flounder in 2019….
    I Cleary will be under enormous pressure to make the top 4…watch for rumblings from Gould anytime they look like missing out on a top 4 or hit a rough patch…

      • See Panthers18, others are able to see that Nathan and Ivan are under stacks of pressure. Even the funny weed smoking 3hats acknowledges that your half is overrated. 2041 has hit the nail on the head when he states N. Cleary is “BOG” AVERAGEπŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜†πŸ€£πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜†πŸ˜ πŸ’ͺπŸ‘΄πŸ‘‰πŸ₯„

        • I never said that he wasn’t under pressure, WoodChook. Overrated, yeah okay, if you say so. He is better than Mitchell Pearce.

        • I’m a Cronk fan these days Panthers18. Pearce plays for Newcastle, I go for theπŸ“πŸ†πŸ“πŸ†Roosters mate. Cleary may be NSW halfback for a decade but he needs to lift his game if he wants to retain his spot in the Blues team for 2019. If he gets picked he needs to play better in attack.

          Pearce left the Roosters because he would of lost his control over the team. Cleary if picked for NSW needs to take control of the team. That’s what halfbacks do. Cronk took control of the Roosters guiding them with instruction injured playing in this years grand final. Cleary needs to take control. Halfbacks own the team. If he cant organise then he won’t last.πŸ’ͺπŸ‘΄πŸ‘‰βœ”

        • Form is what I was going on, not if he had played at the Roosters or not. Pearce was leading the Dally M awards before he got himself injured. Like I said previously Panthers18. I am not a fan of ex RoostersβŒπŸ“πŸ†—. But I do write about Facts. Remember Cleary was a gamble that was rushed back from injury and played one game to prove his fitness after being out for 2 or 3 weeks and Pearce was on fire. Cleary only got picked because Pearce was injured and they decided to go with youth instead of Reynolds. Wait their I hope you don’t accuse me of being a Reynolds fan now that his name was mentioned.πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜πŸ˜‚πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜πŸ€£πŸ˜†πŸ˜πŸ˜‚πŸ€£

        • WoodChook, Pearce has had his chance, so now it is Nathan’s turn. He more than held his own, Stop preempting my thoughts. You do not have a clue about my thought processes nor do you know the thought processes of the NSW blues selectors.

        • You have nitwititus mate, I’m not interested in your thought process. Go talk to Penz0 he should know the number of a good couch doctor. ahahahahahahahahahaha.

          Look mate its not up to you or me who plays but form should dictate selection not favouritism or loyalties from previous years. That was Laurie Daley’s big mistake. Fittler is in charge and he should pick on form which he did. Last season Pearce was the form half right up until he got injured just before Origin was picked. If Pearce did not get injured do you think they still would of went with Cleary after playing one game in about 4 weeks over a red hot in form player???? Common sense should tell you Cleary was very lucky. But If Cleary is in great form all the way up to the 2019 Origin and what I have been trying to tell you over and over again, then give him a go. Pick the form player, reputation does not win games. Form should be the be the gauge.

          BUT if he becomes a passenger again then NSW need to explore other options and if its youth they want then Brooks will probably be next in line. Wait there I hope you don’t accuse me of being a Brooks fan now that his name was mentioned. Aahahahahahahahahahahaha

        • Really this coming from a person who does not respect other peoples opinion, who attempts to bully others, and who appears to be extremely arrogant. Again he was not a passenger, and he will do better next year. Now be gone.

        • Really this coming from a person who does not respect other peoples opinion, attepts to ignore FACTS and present a case without reasonable doubt.

          Again Panther18 He was a passenger and if he wants a state Guernsey then he better lift his game. Now be gone.

        • Panther18 you say Cleary was not a passenger??????? But then you say THIS……….

          Panthers18 December 29, 2018 at 7:15 am
          OMG, Nathan was being PROTECTED. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

          In other words being protected means not playing much in attack and therefore becoming a……..one more time for the dumm1es………… a……………commom on ………..you can say it………a………….PASSENGER….AHAHAHAHAHAHA

        • Nathan will improve in attack. His defensive skills was second to none. Also Nathan played out of his skin when Maloney was binned, and he didn’t have the brain explosions that James had.

        • I hope you are right Panthers18. If Cleary does in fact reach his potential, he will be the NSW half for the next decade. Yes, his defence in Origin was great, but he still has a way to go to make the position his own. Again, I hope you are right and he does just that.

        • I never said he was a bad player Panthers18. I said he went missing in action for the Blues in attack. For Penrith he has been playing very good.

          Wait there I hope you don’t accuse me of being a Reynolds, Brooks AND Cleary fan now that thses names were mentioned. πŸ€£πŸ˜‚πŸ˜πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚πŸ€£

  4. Dan Nicholls may well prove to be correct with his story? We will see.
    I doubt Dan ever watched an ISP game though. So he probably has no idea of the talent coming through in any club?
    Penrith made the finals in every grade they competed in. No other club can claim that.
    So like every club they have decisions to make.. Try to keep the up & coming talent as much as possible. Or keep more of the first grade team & lose the talented youngsters to other clubs.
    There are plenty of talented young forwards coming through at Penrith & Shaun Blore will be in first grade sooner than later. He & others are simply better than Merrin. Who didn’t have a great 2018.
    Cleary will have support in the halves. Maloney, Luai, May to start with.
    So Peachey & Naera may be big losses? Still who’s to say the next generation of players can’t be better? Many of them may well soon be household names. With other clubs supporters saying they’d look good in their teams colours. Which then means they’ve made it.

  5. 8. Leota
    9. Katoa
    10. RCG
    11. Kikau
    12. Yeo
    13. JFH

    14. TMay
    15. Tamou
    16. Heathrington
    17. McKendry

    8. TGrant
    9. Egan
    10. Sele
    11. KEllis
    12. Fuimoano
    13. LMartin

    LuiToso
    PaeaPua
    Saunders
    Talakai

  6. Happy New year…. stay safe on your travels and best wishes for 2019.
    PS Be nice to each other…. it’s only a game.

    • St Peter, its not a game, its a passion within our life. So go back to Rome and let fellow Catholics like Bob Marley style smoker 3hats kiss your ring. But I certainly won’t. πŸ€£πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚πŸ˜πŸ’ͺπŸ”πŸ‘‰But seriously I wish all Rooster fans a happy New Year and I suppose the same to the rest of ya’s

  7. 2019 NRL premiers will be the Parramatta Eels.
    New world class stadium
    No Hayne no Norman
    Dropping the poor excuse of home jersey,
    Playing only in their heritage (1986) style jersey
    Young gun Dylan Brown will be rookie of the year.
    Big year from French , Gutherson

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