The Penrith Panthers have made two straight grand finals and enter the 2022 campaign as defending premiers, but some underrated recruits could leave them scrambling to fill gaps in an effort to stay at the top this time around.
The Panthers have been the NRL’s most consistent team over the last two years, and their 2021 premiership was well and truly deserved. That is even more so the case after they were forced to do it the hard way during the finals, beating the Eels, Storm and Rabbitohs in tough, low-scoring matches.
But that doesn’t mean 2022 will be quite as simple following the departures of Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell and Paul Momirovski, as well as Tevita Pangai Junior who played a significant role at the back end of the season following his mid-year arrival from the Broncos.
Capewell and Momirovski may not have gotten the raps of other stars, but were incredibly important to Penrith, while Burton is a star in the making. Penrith still have stacks of talent, the New South Wales halves and a representative-calibre forward pack though, so are still one of the teams to beat.
Ins: Christian Crichton (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2022), Mavrik Geyer (2023), Thomas Jenkins (2023), Sean O'Sullivan (New Zealand Warriors, 2022), Preston Riki (2022)
Outs: Billy Burns (St George Illawarra Dragons), Matt Burton (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Kurt Capewell (Brisbane Broncos), Tyrone May (Catalan Dragons), Paul Momirovski (Sydney Roosters), Brent Naden (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Tevita Pangai Junior (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Star player: Nathan Cleary
Nathan Cleary was the second-best player in the NRL last year, and in any other season, would likely have won the Dally M Medal.
That wasn’t possible thanks to the unbelievable form of Tom Trbojevic, but he lost a single game he was on field for all year, controlled the kicking game and directed traffic for the Panthers before captaining his side to the premiership. He is once again the key for Penrith in 2022.
Rising star: Izack Tago
Watch out for Tago this year. The departure of Momirovski is a blow to Penrith given his excellent defence, which turned him into one of the club’s most important, yet underrated players, in 2021.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a replacement though. Tago has been on the radar for some time and will break out in 2021, with Cleary already earmarking that he will fill one of the vacant centre spots, with Burton also exiting.
Most under pressure: Apisai Koroisau
Koroisau is one of the best hookers in the game, that much there can be no doubting. However, his form seemed to fall away during the second half of 2021, before he recovered during the finals series.
Still, Koroisau leaves the club at the end of 2022 and all eyes will be on him as he attempts to continue being one of the best rakes in the game.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 1, vs Sea Eagles, at BlueBet Stadium (Thu, Mar 10, 8:05pm)
Match 2: Round 4, vs Rabbitohs, at BlueBet Stadium (Fri, Apr 1, 8:05pm)
Match 3: Round 10, vs Storm, at Suncorp Stadium (Sat, May 14, 7:45pm)
Match 4: Round 16, vs Roosters, at BlueBet Stadium (Fri, Jul 1, 7:55pm)
Match 5: Round 20, vs Eels, at CommBank Stadium (Fri, Jul 29, 7:55pm)
The Panthers will be at or near the top once again. They simply have too much talent to let the three departures they have had impact them so much that the wheels will fall off, while coach Ivan Cleary has had them at the top for the last two years through plenty of adversity.
Despite that, other teams will be out to get them. Viliame Kikau singing “Glory Glory” after the grand final will have undoubtedly rubbed other teams up the wrong way, and that’ll only make life tougher. It’s difficult to assume Penrith will be premiers again, but they should be fighting for a spot in the top four, which will put them back in the hunt.