It seems lots of NRL fans are convinced that a few coaches just aren’t made of the right stuff and won’t be leading their troops to a title this season or in the future.
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The Panthers came into 2017 as equal premiership favourites, however, after a nightmare start to the season, they never really made their presence felt.
While they did build some significant momentum in the second half of the season and into the finals, their failure to get past Week 2 matched their 2016 output. This was a side that never really reached its potential, despite some relative success.
Season Finish – Exited Week 2 of Finals – (Regular Season – seventh, 13 Wins, 11 Losses, 504 Points For, 459 Points Against)
Season Ranking 6/10 – I can’t go any higher than a six for Penrith, given they came into the season as equal favourites for the Premiership. However, after a disastrous start to the season where they won just two of their first nine games, they did well to make the finals with relative comfort in the end.
While they kept racking up the wins late in the season, many of them were unconvincing and, despite upsetting Manly in Week 1 of the finals, they never really looked a threat to the Top 4.
Coaching Ranking 5/10 (Anthony Griffin) – I mark Griffin quite harshly here as I think he failed to get the best out of this side. Plenty of times they looked like a team playing without a plan inside the opposition 20-metre zone. Penrith, for me, relied on talent and unstructured tries to get by in many games.
Griffin has proven, over stints at the Broncos and Panthers, that he is a solid, dependable first grade coach. However, his sides have never quite lived up to expectations, nor has he been able to install a game plan that has been effective in the finals. If I am being honest, I don’t rate Griffin as a coach capable of taking the Panthers to a Premiership.
Best Win – Round 24 – Canberra Raiders 22 Penrith Panthers 26 @ GIO Stadium – I thought this was clearly the Panthers’ best win of the season, given what was at stake, and that the Raiders were just starting to hit their straps.
Played in front of the big crowd in Canberra, the Panthers started fast before a mid-game slump saw them needing a try in the final five minutes to get their second win over the Raiders for the season. Fast, physical and up-tempo, this is how Penrith fans wanted their team to play most weeks, however, they often underwhelmed.
Worst Loss – Round 17 – South Sydney Rabbitohs 42 Penrith Panthers 14@ ANZ Stadium – This was a shocking performance from the Panthers, considering they jumped out to an 8-0 against a Souths’ side that struggled to score points this season.
They just mentally were not there in this game, as the Rabbitohs turned on the style, scoring a number of extravagant tries.
Best Player – Reagan Campbell-Gillard – Campbell-Gillard really asserted himself as the leader of the Penrith pack this year. While there were perhaps bigger names in the forward pack, Campbell-Gillard was outstanding throughout, particularly in the back half of the year. He averaged around 130 metres per game, but it was the quality of his hit ups that were telling for mine.
He has great leg speed for a prop, and got over the advantage line more than any other Penrith forward. With a great attitude in defence he could easily break into the Blues’ team in the next year or two. While I thought Nathan Cleary had a great back end to the season, I thought the Panthers’ attack looked a bit flat for long periods of this season, particularly in the opposition red zone.
Most Disappointing Player – Matt Moylan – There were a few candidates here to be fair. I thought both James Tamou and Trent Merrin failed to really play with the aggression and quality you would expect from two experienced former representative players. However, Moylan, as the captain, looked unsettled and played hot and cold football when he was on the field.
Moylan has never looked comfortable in the captain’s role, and I’m really questioning why the Panthers went down that path with him. He has all the talent in the world, however his laid back attitude might either need a change of scenery or a rethink if he is to make the most of his career.
2018 Prospects – The Panthers will retain a pretty strong and stable roster in 2018. To me, though, they need to find that ruthless edge and more consistency in their game that the top teams, in the Storm, Broncos, Roosters and Cowboys, often bring.
Penrith have more depth than most clubs in the NRL and, given they are not overly affected by Origin, they really should be setting their sights on a Top 4 finish.
This side can’t rely on flying under the radar anymore. Griffin, and some of their senior players, I think, need to find another level in 2018.