First things first: the purpose of this piece is not to denigrate Dylan Edwards.
As someone with the physique of Mark Tookey, the composure of Paul Carige and the charisma of Martin Bella, Edwards’ 78 NRL appearances are 78 more than I had any hope of ever making.
He seems like a good bloke, and is evidently a good player. Edwards has triumphed in three-quarters of his first-grade games — and teams who taste that much success can’t carry a passenger in the number one jersey.
It’s also unfair to judge him so soon after he miscalculated Mitchell Moses’ towering bomb in Penrith’s epic semi-final defeat of Parramatta, which deserves to be filed as ‘one of those things’ rather than ‘career-defining blunder’.
Instead, the purpose of this article is to pose a simple question: how many clubs would trade their first-choice fullback for Penrith’s number one?
I reckon the answer is zero, or possibly one, once you reach the very bottom of the ladder.
The five teams alongside Penrith in the top six wouldn’t dream of it.
The Storm (Ryan Papenhuyzen), Rabbitohs (Latrell Mitchell), Sea Eagles (Tom Trbojevic), Roosters (James Tedesco) and Eels (Clint Gutherson) all have their fullbacks under lock and key. Their ladder positions are no coincidence.
You can throw Newcastle’s Kalyn Ponga into that group as well.
On the fringe of the top eight, Gold Coast (AJ Brimson) and Cronulla (Will Kennedy) both boast exciting fullbacks that are establishing themselves among the elite.
The Sharks also welcome Nicho Hynes into their dressing room next year, although he looks likely to shuffle into the halves.
Canberra have an excellent number one in Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, followed by five clubs with promising rookies on their books: Tyrell Sloan at the Dragons, Reece Walsh at the Warriors, Daine Laurie at the Tigers, Tesi Niu at the Broncos and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at the Cowboys.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting these five are necessarily better than Edwards right now, or even that they will eventually reach his level.
I am saying that these five clubs would probably prefer to continue investing in youngsters with a higher potential ceiling rather than settle for Penrith’s known quantity.
At the foot of the table, Canterbury have recruited Matt Dufty for the 2022 season. The ex-Dragon isn’t perfect, sure, but there no doubting his potency with the ball in hand — a facet lacking from Edwards’ game.
If I was Trent Barrett, I’d be happy with my new signing over Edwards. But if indignant Panthers fans mount a compelling argument in the comments, I won’t offer much resistance.
Of the 15 rival NRL teams, I’m not sure even one would swap their fullback for Penrith’s.
And in a competition where the ladder sits in order of elite fullbacks at the top, emerging ones in the middle and exciting youngsters down the bottom, Edwards is an anomaly.
When he’s not having to face spiralling Mitchell bombs in greasy North Queensland conditions, Edwards is usually solid.
He’s run an average of 191 metres per game this year, including a team-high 229 in the semi-final against the Eels. That’s more than James Tedesco (184), Clint Gutherson (170) and Mitchell (141), for reference.
The issue isn’t too much bad stuff, it’s a lack of good stuff — especially when the teams standing between the Panthers and the premiership enjoy superstar fullbacks who consistently produce great stuff.
Edwards has scored just five tries, assisted four and broken the line five times in 19 games this season for a side that strutted into the second spot.
By comparison, Daine Laurie — who Penrith released to the Tigers in favour of Edwards — tallied seven tries, eight assists and nine line breaks in the same number of appearances behind a badly-beaten team at the other end of the ladder.
Maybe Edwards will collect the first hat trick of his career on Saturday against the Storm, or bob up on both sides of the field to tee up try after try for his wingers.
He could command the Clive Churchill Medal for his starring role in the grand final a week later, as Penrith convert two years of home-and-away dominance into the ultimate prize.
If they don’t, though, Ivan Cleary’s post mortem might begin with the first name on his team sheet.
Either that or more Wayne Bennett refereeing conspiracies.