STEVE TURNER: Penrith can be the dark horse of 2013

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Kevin Kingston will line up for one last match. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

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Go on Penrith Panthers fans – dare to dream! Your club is in an exciting rebuilding phase overseen by Ivan Cleary and Gus Gould.

Many thought you’d be merely making up the numbers this season without Michael Jennings, Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Co.

You can call me crazy, but I don’t think a finals berth is completely out of the question this year.

Unquestionably, last Sunday’s loss to the Knights stalled their momentum, but I was at that game and saw enough to think Penrith might just be able to steal eighth spot in the finals.

They’ve got some tough opponents to overcome in the run home but I believe there is enough talent and hunger in this Panthers team to pull off a fairytale.

Their draw reads as follows: Sharks (A), Roosters (H), Cowboys (H), Warriors (A), Brisbane (H), Bulldogs (A) and Sea Eagles (A).

They have a big, mobile and creative forward pack and a backline capable of piling on the points against the best drilled defences.

I like the blend of experience and youth at the foot of the mountains and with no serious public or media pressure on their campaign, I believe the Panthers can play with a degree of freedom that makes them doubly dangerous, a finals possibility.

Old hands such as Luke Walsh, David Simmons, Clint Newton, Lewis Brown, Kevin Kingston and Nigel Plum have done some great things this year and their groundwork has seen young players such as Matt Moylan, Adam Docker, James Roberts, Isaac John and Matt Robinson catch the eye time and again with their exciting skills set.

And then there’s hooker James Segeyaro, who has probably been the buy of the season. I love watching James in action. No matter the game situation, he makes things happen.

Even if I am wrong with my prediction and the panthers fail to make the playoffs, great times are virtually guaranteed for the Panthers in the years ahead.

I’m not sure if Roar readers are aware of the incredible line-up of talent rising through the grades in the Golden West.

In the NSW Cup, there’s George Jennings (brother of Blues centre Michael) on the way up and loads of potential first graders including Bryce Cartwright (second row), Kieren Moss (fullback) and half Toby Evans.

If you dig a little deeper in the Under 20s, you’ll find a brilliant array of future stars such as fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, half/five-eighth Doug Hewitt, Waqa Blake (centre) and Wellentony Satini (wing) just waiting for their opportunity. And there are many, many more.

The Panthers are definitely on the prowl again and don’t be surprised if they over-achieve this year.

To my way of thinking, the club’s future could not be brighter.

Steve Turner is a retired rugby league player currently employed at the Canterbury Bulldogs as the club's content producer. He is a regular at both ABC Grandstand and Fox Sports News. Steve played 161 NRL games for the Panthers, the Storm and the Bulldogs, as well as one game for the NSW Origin team and one game for City Origin. He played in the 2006, 07, 08 and 09 NRL grand finals. Twitter- @SteveTurner84
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