2009 Season Review - Penrith Panthers
September 7th 2009 07:19
The Panthers' 11th-placed finish in 2009 suggests another season of disappointment at the foot of the Blue Mountains, but the club will take heart in the knowledge they were just 80 minutes away from their first finals appearance since 2004. It will also be a stinging reminder of what might have been for Matthew Elliott's men after they collected just one win from their last six matches - they were 5th heading into Round 22. Michael Jennings continued his meteoric rise to superstardom and debuted for NSW, while some of the club's veterans rediscovered their best form. Although injuries played a major part in Penrith's late-season collapse, questions should certainly be asked about the manner of their capitulation.
Jennings was at the forefront of a 48-6 obliteration of the Roosters and a thrilling 38-34 win over Parramatta, but a gritty 12-10 eclipse of defending champs Manly in Round 3 gave the young Panthers the belief they could match it with the NRL's big guns.
With eighth place up for grabs in the final round against Newcastle, Penrith were woeful in going down 35-0. Their attack, which had been sizzling earlier in the year, was amateurish. The defensive cracks had begun to show when they haemorrhaged 40 unanswered points in the second half against Brisbane, while conceding 83 points in the final two rounds to the Eels and Knights suggests they did not belong in the finals.
Jennings was consistently brilliant and must be nearing Kangaroo selection - one of the game's brightest talents. Trent Waterhouse produced his best NRL season, and earned a NSW recall along with the ultra-consistent Luke Lewis.
Winger Michael Gordon has emerged as the NRL's sharpest shooter, finishing the year with the incredible goalkicking figures of 94%.
After blooding several exciting rookies in 2008, Matt Elliott didn''t require the services of too many first-year players, but winger Junior Tia-Kilifi looked an exciting prospect with four tries in eight games.
Newcastle cast-off Luke Walsh created an extra dimension after joining the Panthers' mid-season. Walsh slotted seamlessly into the No. 7 role and spearheaded the club's charge up the ladder. Another former Knight Brad Tighe played strongly and cemented a centre spot, while Gavin Cooper was a valuable buy from the Titans, offering cover in the back-row and centres.
Ultimately derailed Penrith's finals aspirations. Petero Civoniceva missed the second half of the season with a toe injury, and while the young Panthers' pack soldiered on gamely without their skipper and forward anchor, they were steamrolled by more experienced sides late in the year. Luke Lewis also missed ten games with injury, and boom youngster Lachlan Coote's second first grade season was over after just 12 appearances.
The Panthers will retain the core of their squad in 2010, with No. 9 Paul Aiton the only notable departure. With an injury-free run, and particularly having cast-iron veterans Civoniceva and Lewis on deck for the entire season, the Panthers have the firepower in players like Jennings and Frank Pritchard to storm into the finals. Elliott's job is safe at the moment after seemingly having his head in the noose 12 months ago, but another failure in 2010 may spell the end of his tenure.
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