SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 04: Peter Wallace of the Panthers celebrates scoring a try with team mates during the round 26 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Manly Sea Eagles at Pepper Stadium on September 4, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Predicted Finish: 13th

Actual Finish: 6th

Panthers 2022 Player Movements

2022 Gains
Eddie Blacker (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2022)
2022 Losses
Billy Burns (St George Illawarra Dragons), Matt Burton (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Re-Signed
Stephen Crichton (2023), Spencer Leniu (2023), Jarome Luai (2024), Isaah Yeo (2024)
Off Contract 2021
Kurt Capewell, Robert Jennings, Mitchell Kenny, Tyrone May, Brent Naden, Jaeman Salmon, Scott Sorensen, Sunia Turuva

When I predicted the Panthers would finish 13th, I copped plenty of curry from their passionate supporter base, and they were absolutely right.

When I explained that my thinking was based on the fact the Panthers couldn’t play finals footy with a halves combination of Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace, even the Panther’s management agreed.

Soward was released to play in England, and Wallace was moved to the number nine position, a position his game style suits almost perfectly.

Step forward young Nathan Cleary and Bryce Cartwright (filling in for the injured Te Maire Martin) and suddenly the Panthers became a threat from literally anywhere on the field.

As a result, along with some brilliant recruitment decisions, I certainly won’t have them finishing 13th this season.

Best Player: Josh Mansour

A strong case can be made for many players on this side, but over the duration of the season, there was so simply no winger in the NRL better than Josh Mansour.

15 tries saw him top the Panthers try scoring tally, as did his amazing 21 line-breaks, but it was more his involvement that earned him the gong.

He recorded over 165 running metres per game and is arguably the hardest winger in the competition to tackle.

2016 was the season Mansour became the all-round winger and earned rep honours as a result. Unfortunately, his 2017 season will start much later than hoped due to injury.

Season Highlight: Defeated Bulldogs 28-12 round one of the finals

I was lucky enough to be at this game as a neutral observer, as it will be remembered as one of the most attacking and entertaining games of the season.

No Panthers fan will soon forget the length of the field tries that saw their side advance to week two of the finals at the expense of the Bulldogs.

Mansour was frightening, Cartwright and Cleary had the ball on a string, and Merrin and co. had the Bulldogs pack’s number.

A big crowd was on hand to see it, although they made the noise of a crowd much bigger. It was a brilliant event and just reward for the Panthers hard work in 2016.

Best Signing: James Tamou

The Panthers pulled off one of the recruitments of the season when they grabbed 170 game veteran and perennial rep prop James Tamou.

For mine, he was the best player on the ground in the Cowboys 2015 Grand Final victory and remains one of the best props in the competition on his day.

Tamou put in the big yards even after deciding his future lay away from North Queensland, recording 134+ metres a game.

At 28 years of age, he should be in his footballing prime and will provide yet another monster forward in this electric Panthers pack.

The Positives:

Two fresh halves unearthed: Although Bryce Cartwright stared during his time in the halves, his future remains in the back-row, paving the way for one of the most exciting halves combinations in the competition. Nathan Cleary had an incredible run after debuting in round 13. His partner is likely to be Te Maire Martin who looked very impressive before injury hit in round eight. The future certainly looks bright.

Mass re-signings: Re-signings are just as, if not more, important that new signings. In 2016 the Panthers were able to tie down the futures of Bryce Cartwright, Nathan Cleary, Josh Mansour, Trent Merrin, Matt Moylan, Isaah Yeo, Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey. That’s eight core players, and arguably, in Cartwright, Cleary, Moylan, Merrin and Mansour their best five players. Brilliant effort.

Season Grading: B

Although they were outplayed in their final game of the season in Canberra, no one can doubt the incredible success the Panthers achieved in 2016.

Not only did they manage to re-sign eight top players, but they also added a representative prop to their side heading forward.

Nathan Cleary is already being spoken of as a future Origin player, while Josh Mansour and Trent Merrin will certainly be Origin mainstays for the foreseeable future.

The Panthers made some hard decisions and as a result have transformed from a side looking to simply make up the numbers into a side that could, with a bit of luck, launch a title assault in the near future.

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