What is the story with all the hate for the Penrith Panthers and their fans all of a sudden? It is like people have confused them for the real enemy.
Just like when Brian in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” had to remind his comrades in the People’s Front of Judea and the Campaign for Free Galilee that fighting with each other – along with the Judean Peoples Front and the Judean Popular Front – was a needless diversion from their struggle against their common enemy (the Romans), the idea that opposition teams and their supporters would waste any energy deriding or hating on the Panthers and their fans is bizarre to me.
Sure, I understand that it is quite intimidating playing a side that has won 23 of their last 24 games, but let’s be perfectly clear about this: the Panthers are one of the good guys.
Their success is as hard earned as it is recent. As well, let’s not forget that the one loss they endured over the past year or so was the one that really mattered.
While this run of awesome form is quite noteworthy and impressive, it’s not like it is part of a pattern of consistent, ongoing and monotonous success of the like the Storm and Roosters have had.
While the Panthers have been involved in just two grand finals in the past 20 seasons for one win, the Tricolours and Purple Horde have combined to take part in 15 during that period for nine grand final triumphs.
As well, while the Roosters and Storm have claimed six of the premierships in the last decade between them, the Panthers have had to deal with a fair bit of turmoil. We’ve seen players leave controversially and we’ve seen multiple player controversies.
There have been three coaches sacked and a fairly major shift in the boardroom. In 2019 they missed the finals, coming tenth.
How can you possibly hate them for this recent run of good form? I mean, it’s not like it’s Manly or the Broncos we’re talking about.
The fact that the Panthers are now undefeated after the first five rounds of 2021 – making it 16 straight weeks on top of the NRL ladder – is testament to just how good a coach Ivan Cleary is.
I’m by no means a new arrival to Cleary’s fan club.
Back in 2014, during his first stint with the Panthers, I could see just what a great operator he was, with his brief stint with the Wests Tigers only cementing my views.
Cleary clearly has a plan. It is well thought out and when put into action it usually gets results. What he expects from his players is that they buy in. That they “get on the bus.”
He’ll work with the clay he has and he doesn’t tolerate dissent or big heads. If you indulge in the former or possess the latter your tenure under Cleary will be very brief, regardless of how valuable you might perceive yourself to be.
You just have to look at the players he’s let go while coaching to understand that he does not negotiate and cares not a jot for reputations.
Further, unlike certain other clubs, the Panthers haven’t exactly recruited superstars. The vast majority of their players are home grown, with those they do get at market usually being good, honest toilers.
Of the 19 players that have taken the field this year for the Panthers, only four have played first grade for other clubs.
I don’t think anyone can equate the signings of Kurt Capewell, Api Koroisau, Paul Momirovski or Matt Eisenhuth with signings of the likes of David Fifita, James Tedesco or Cooper Cronk.
As well, with the exception of occasionally flipping the bird to a few deserving souls, Cleary doesn’t ‘big note’ himself or pick fights. There isn’t a lot to hate about him or how he has gone about building this superb team.
While I did take exception to Spencer Leniu’s shot on the Storm’s Tom Eisenhuth, and I am perplexed how Villiame Kikau was not charged, let alone sin binned, for the high shot on Charnze Nicoll-Klockstad that has put the latter out of action for up to two months, this Panthers side is not dirty in the way they play.
They play the game hard but fair.
I can already hear people screaming, “what about Jarome Luai? He is a grub and a serial pest!”
No he isn’t.
Luai is a very talented young man who is really enjoying his footy. He presents that enjoyment through his huge smile and joyous celebrations. There has been a lot to smile about and celebrate too. If your side is on the receiving end of the Panthers excellent form then it is likely you haven’t enjoyed watching young Jerome celebrate much at all.
However, being obnoxious doesn’t make him a thug or a grub.
As for the rest of the team, there is really only one player who is readily deserving of ire and derision.
You can bet that Ivan Cleary has already taken young Stephen Crichton aside to tell him to tone down his on-field behaviour. While lots of players engage in niggle, the young back who had a breakout 2020 is acting the goose.
Case in point was him unnecessarily dragging Raider Joe Tapine – who had yet to come on via interchange – into the Panthers’ try celebration. That was stupidity personified.
Not only has it cost him just shy of $2,000 for contrary conduct, he has put a target on himself unnecessarily. Opposition players and fans will be increasingly putting a target on him if he keeps it up.
As well, Crichton’s form must have him in the frame for Origin, but having a hot head isn’t on the top of a representative coach’s list of desirable attributes in a player.
However, every side has at least one jerk. It’s hardly a reason to hate the whole club.
Also a pathetic reason to dislike a club is when their fans engage in banter.
As a proud Raiders man, let me make it clear that while we didn’t enjoy losing, I bear the Panthers faithful zero ill will for their mocking of the Viking Clap.
To the victor goes the spoils.
It was good natured celebration and virtually everyone saw it as just that.
Anyone who gets their panties in a bunch because the opposition fans made fun of a crowd activity that we appropriated from the people of Iceland needs to have a very good look at themselves.
We need that sort of character and rivalry in our game. You can be sure the next time the two sides play it will be all the more willing for it.
And the Penrith fans have had a hell of a hard time.
The end of 2019 saw them inundated with bushfires and smoke, to go with their already scorching temperatures and smog.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic which saw them locked down and often losing their jobs.
Losing the grand final to the Storm can’t have been fun. And recently they’ve just been smashed by flooding.
So if they are enjoying themselves right now I reckon they thoroughly deserve it.
If they break through for their first premiership in 19 years this season I won’t begrudge them one little bit. In fact I’ll be really happy that it isn’t again one of the usual suspects, who are far less deserving to my mind.
To paraphrase Life of Brian, I’ll be ever so glad, because they’ve had a hell of a time…