2010 Position: 2nd (15 wins, 9 losses)
Gains: Arana Taumata (North Queensland Cowboys), Michael Worrincy (Bradford Bulls, ESL), Dayne Weston (North Queensland Cowboys), Nafe Seluini (New Zealand Warriors), Brendon Gibb (Norths Devils, Queensland Cup), Joseph Paulo (St George Illawarra), Tim Winitana (Canterbury Bulldogs), Yileen Gordon (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Many years in the wilderness of the bottom 8 have been building up the frustration of the Penrith Panthers fans. After 3 years in charge, 2010 was an important year for coach Matthew Elliot on whether he could deliver on his promises.
With their 2010 roster, the Panthers most certainly had a team that could challenge for the top 8 at the business end of the season. They were not a guarantee though and great expectations had been placed on them to do well in 2010. With a stable roster and for the most part, not too many injuries, the Panthers were able to finish 2nd on the back of a ruthless attack, as well as a defence that would be able to defend well when required.
The Panthers qualified for the finals for the first time since 2004 and being 2nd they were in a good position to be in the third week of the finals with a win. Unfortunately they encountered an in-form Canberra Raiders team in a closely fought loss. The following week they were convincingly beaten by a more in-form Roosters team with the Panthers being a depleted side both before the game and during the game.
If the positives of 2010 are anything to go by, 2011 might be a year that very few underestimate the Penrith Panthers. They have managed to keep a core of players in both key positions for the past few years as well as re-signing Kevin Kingston and Tim Grant amongst others to long term deals. They have lost promising young playmaker Wade Graham, as well as impact forward Frank Pritchard. They will be relying on halves Luke Walsh and Travis Burns to lead the team around the park as well as forwards Tim Grant, Sam McKendry and Petero Civoniceva to lead the way up front in 2011.
What went right in 2010: Stability in key positions has always been a problem for the Penrith Panthers in the past, using many halves combinations during a season. In 2010 they were fortunate enough to use the 3 of Luke Walsh, Travis Burns, and Wade Graham. Lachlan Coote cemented his spot at fullback as well as Kevin Kingston managing to hold onto his 9 jersey with some solid form at his new club. A more structured game plan compared to recent years and the good form from most of the team on a week to week basis meant the Panthers were a competitive team each week for the most part, after a slow start to the 2010 season. An improvement in home game wins gave fans something to cheer about also.
What went wrong in 2010: The Panthers were often criticised for being one-dimensional in attack, despite the kicking of Luke Walsh providing more tries for Penrith then any other team in the NRL. Attacking weapons such as Michael Jennings and Frank Pritchard were used ineffectively. During certain games in the 2010 season and especially the finals, this one-dimensional attack was found out. An unfortunate run of injuries in the later stages of 2010 also hampered their 2010 season. Luke Walsh, Lachlan Coote and Petero Civoneciva all missed parts even though winger Michael Gordon filled in well at fullback. In their last game of the 2010 season they were further depleted and running into a very in-form Sydney Roosters side which meant the end of their finals campaign.
Final say for 2011: The Panthers have managed to sign key players to long term deals which are a positive sign for the future including star centre Michael Jennings. The loss of Frank Pritchard may be a blow to an already good forward pack, but Penrith have a bit of depth in the forwards with Nigel Plum and Dane Laurie ready to make their mark as regular players in the top 17 if called upon in 2011 by coach Matt Elliot. The loss of Wade Graham also means halves Luke Walsh and Travis Burns will be relied upon to lead the team around and possibly stay as injury free as possible for 2011, but they have Taumata as a reserve. 2010 was a big improvement on 2009, and 2011 could build on what was achieved in 2010. They have not needed to recruit much for this year other then a few depth signings which does not affect the key components of the starting team. Also with coach Elliot off contract at the end of 2011, he will have extra incentive to make the most of this upcoming season, as well as trying to build on what he started when he arrived in 2007. There are plenty of positives for this young and enthusiastic, yet seasoned team of players and a lot of factors will contribute to how well they perform and finish in 2011.