Saturday, 10 September 2016

NRL Title Contenders: Penrith Panthers (2016)

The Panthers boast the second youngest side in the competition this year (behind only the last placed Knights) and had an inconsistent season up until Round 19 when their win against rivals Parramatta was the start of a strong surge towards the finals which has seen them clinch seventh position and qualify for the finals.

Why They Can Win

Utility Value. The Panthers have had arguably the most disruptive season to their spine of all clubs this year. They’ve used 4 different fullbacks, 5 five-eighths, 3 halfbacks and 4 hookers. Since they finally found a combination that worked, they have won 6 of their last 7 games. They boast some of the best young talent in the game who are very versatile players, headed by Bryce Cartwright, they also have Tyrone Peachey, James Fisher-Harris, Zak Hardaker and Matt Moylan.

Why They Can’t

Inexperience. Just 4 members of their current squad are aged older than 26, with Peter Wallace the only player in his 30’s (he turns 31 in October). Nathan Cleary is only 18 yet has had a stellar season at halfback. His five-eighth is the supremely talented 21 year old Bryce Cartwright. Such inexperience in the vital playmaking positions is their biggest hurdle in the most vital area.

Key Player

Bryce Cartwright. The youngster is a back rower who has really found himself at home at five-eighth. He runs straight and hard when he needs to, but has the deft passing game required of any genuinely talented five-eighth. He has also helped to sure up the Panthers edge defence. 10 of their first 16 games saw the Panthers concede 20 points or more. The most they’ve conceded in the last 7 games is 20 points against the Warriors.

Squad Health

Penrith have been without their starting centres for most of the year. Dean Whare and Peta Hiku both suffered season ending knee injuries. Front rower Sam McKendry is also out for the rest of the year with a knee injury while last weekend saw talented young back-rower Reagan Campbell-Gillard cop a heavy knock which has broken two discs in his back.

Finals Record

The Panthers have played 21 finals matches. They have won 10 and lost eleven. This year is just their third finals appearance since 2004. In 2010 they lost both matches and in 2014 the beat the Roosters first up before going down to the Bulldogs 18-12 the following week in what is their last finals performance.

Run Home

Penrith play the last game of Round 26 against the 12th placed Manly who have lost their last four straight games now. If the Bulldogs lose to Souths and the Panthers beat Manly, Penrith are a strong chance of finishing sixth on the ladder.

**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**

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