Penrith Panthers 2020 Team Preview

Next up in our team preview series is the Penny Panthers. This piece was put together by our resident Panthers expert Watson in his NRL SuperCoach Talk debut. And it’s a cracker.

And if you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check out the latest podcast, where JT and Benny G also run their eye over the Panthers.

Last year was a disappointing year for the Panthers following three consecutive years in the finals (2016 6th; 2017 7th; and 2018 5th). There could be any number of contributing factors: the scandals at the beginning of the year; new coach; major changes in the backroom staff; and significant player turnover during the year.

However, going forward it is the change in player personnel that is of greatest concern to me. Over the last few years we have been blessed with a number of talented juniors coming through the ranks. Our NYC side was consistently at the top of the table or thereabouts and this saw the progression of players such as RCG, DWZ, Blake, Leota, Yeo, Edwards, Cleary, Katoa and Martin into first grade. More recently we have also seen To’o, Naden, Luai, Egan and Leniu enter the ranks.

Last year saw the departure of five of those local juniors: RCG; Egan; Katoa; Blake; and DWZ. While the club appears to have depth in the forwards, I am not sure that we have the same type of depth in the backs and the loss of Blake and DWZ in particular may take its toll as the season progresses.

Ins and outs for 2020

Ins: Apisai Koroisau (Sea Eagles), Dean Blore, Shawn Blore, Stephen Crichton, Braydon McGrady (upgraded from development contracts), Kurt Capewell (Sharks), Zane Tetevano (Roosters)

Outs: James Maloney (Catalans Dragons), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Eels), Sione Katoa (Bulldogs), Tim Grant, Sam McKendry (retired), Wayde Egan (Warriors), Tyrell Fuimaono (Dragons), Hame Sele, Frank Winterstein, Paea Pua, Nick Lui-Toso (unsigned)

Predicted 17

So let’s have a look at a possible starting 17 for this year:

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Dean Whare 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Zane Tetevano 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Tamou 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Viliame Kikau 13. James Fisher-Harris

14. Moses Leota 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Isaah Yeo 17. Liam Martin

Remaining squad members: Caleb Aekins; Stephen Crichton; Brayden McGrady; Malakai Waitene-Zelezniak; Matt Burton; Dean Blore; Tyrone May; William Burns; Shawn Blore; Jed Cartwright; Kaide Ellis; Jack Hetherington; and Mitch Kenny.

Out of these, the most relevant would appear to be Crichton, Burton, T May (although not until round 5), Hetherington and Kenny.

Draw Analysis

You might look at the summary of the Panthers draw and think “They play the Roosters, Storm and Rabbits only once, but Titans and Tigers twice? Yes please”, but things aren’t as easy as it seems.

While the above it true, the Panthers start the year with a couple of stretches that can only be described as brutal. They’ll play four of their first six games at home, but in those are visits from the reigning premiers on opening weekend, a trip to Melbourne in round 3 and the Broncos and the Raiders in rounds 4 and 5 respectively.

After that Raiders game, things ease off for a few weeks as they’ll face Wests before travelling to the Hunter to meet the Knights and then the Titans at Magic Round. But then the brutality begins again. A home game against the Sharks in Bathurst, away games against the Raiders and Eels, the bye, Knights, Tigers (away) and then Sea Eagles, Broncos, Sharks and Bunnies through to round 18. That’s rough.

But, let’s look at this side from a SuperCoach perspective.


Nathan Cleary ($631.5k, HFB) 2019 average 68.0

Nathan has been shown to be consistent in two particular areas throughout his career: defence and goalkicking. If there has been a downside to his performance it has been an apparent deficiency in his attacking skills.

However, this was not noticeable as he came through the ranks from SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and into NSW Cup. He has also shown glimpses of his attacking ability in his NRL career, most notably against the previously undefeated St George in 2018 just prior to Origin I and again last year in the final game against Newcastle.

Trent Barrett has come on board as an assistant coach and, from what I have heard, has had a lot of input into Nathan’s training during the off-season. The combination of this, along with the absence of Jimmy Maloney and the need for Nathan to take charge, could see a huge improvement in his on field performance in my opinion and, despite his price ($631,500), he was one of my first picked players for 2020.

James Fisher-Harris ($615.7k, 2RF / FRF) 2019 average 66.3

I have always admired Fish as he came through the juniors. I followed him in NYC in particular (NYC and NRL were played on the same day until last year). I actually carried him throughout 2018 in my SuperCoach team during which time he did very little.

However, last year saw him realise his true potential. He has a great work ethic, a big motor and the ability to offload. Unfortunately, I did not have him in my side last year which may go some way to explaining his tremendous form.

Another contributing factor may be that he has settled down with a tremendous partner and has a little girl away from football. He has always been quite reserved off the footy field but I feel that this has further accelerated his maturity.

Unfortunately, he suffered a pec injury in October last year. He underwent surgery but has rehabilitated very well. He re-entered contact a couple of weeks ago and, I believe, is on track to play in the trials. He is therefore the second Panthers player to join my SuperCoach team.


Apisai Koroisau ($338.8k, HOK) 2019 average 36.5

Api came to Penrith from Souths in 2015 after being part of their grand final winning side in 2014. Back then, he had a lot of spark (not unlike Segeyaro) but, again, lack of consistency saw him spend most of his time in NSW Cup.

He now returns as the “main man” in the hooking position at Penrith. Egan and Katoa have moved on to other clubs and Mitch Kenny is still recovering from off-season elbow surgery.

I feel that he may bring back some of that spark and, with players like Kikau and JFH running off him, he will provide SuperCoach value. Priced at $338,800 he was another player that I picked immediately and he has not left my side. I’m expecting him to see a significant rise in value and, when the time comes, I can trade him to a Cook/Smith/McInnes.

Viliame Kikau ($543.2k, 2RF) 2019 average 58.4

Priced at $543,200, I’m not quite sure whether we can call Vili “midrange” but I don’t think he’s yet reached “gun” status. The ability is there: he can break tackles at will; he has a great offload; and he knows his way to the try line. Prior to joining the Panthers, he played for the Cowboys NYC team and scored something like 30 tries in the year.

Unfortunately, consistency is not yet there. Like Fish, he is very quiet and reserved off the field. There were times last year when you just knew that he was going to have a blinder when you saw him in the dressing room before the game and then there were times when you felt he would play in spurts.

This year he will be another year older and this may well be the year that he finds that consistency. If he does he will become “a must have” in your side but, at that price, I personally feel that I can’t take the risk.

Brian To’o ($5273k, CTW) 2019 average 56.7

Another of my favourite players, both as a player and a person. My first memory of Brian was when he was playing centre for the NYC. He went down with an ankle injury approximately 20 minutes into the game. A couple of plays later he took the ball on his own 25m line and ran the length of the field to score a try. In doing so, he beat several players, putting on a Freddie Fittler like step to beat two of them. He stayed on the field and was checked by the NYC doctor at halftime and played out the entire game. I saw him the following Monday morning to review his ankle injury and he had a syndesmosis injury for which he underwent surgery.

He is a very likeable and respectful person off the field but, under that demeanour, there is one very tough individual. He also displayed both speed and skill playing on the wing last year. I would love to have him in my side but I just can’t justify $527,300 for a CTW at this stage of the season.


Jarome Luai ($257.4k, 5/8 / HFB) 2019 average 27.7

Jarome came through the ranks with Nathan Cleary and, again, I saw plenty of him in the NYC. A very gifted player with that special unpredictability that can leave opposition sides guessing. I think he will be well suited playing outside the more structured Cleary. Coming off the bench last year and playing in the forwards has also improved his defensive skills.

Unfortunately, as we all well know, that same unpredictability can see huge differences between floor and ceiling scores and I am not sure how the coach will want him to play this year.

Still, at $257,400, I can’t see him losing money and he may just jag a couple of big scores to give me the money to upgrade my many team weaknesses down the track.

Spencer Leniu ($201k, FRF) 2019 average 18.0

Another favourite of mine. This kid was devastating throughout NYC, playing big minutes, breaking the line at will and scoring tries with regular monotony. Also showed big defence.

The question was whether he would be able to maintain that sort of form when he stepped up to play NSW Cup. He did so with ease and was further promoted to NRL after just a few games.

Unfortunately, saw very little game time last year. With a full off-season under his belt training with the big boys I am hopeful that we shall see a significant increase in minutes this year. He certainly has a SuperCoach friendly game and, at $201,000, he is another player that has not left my side since the start of the season.

Other considerations

I don’t see there being a a lot of change to the core of the team as the year progresses. As a fan, I am concerned by the lack of depth in the CTW. Caleb Aekins ($258.1k, FLB) has played one NRL game (and scored very well) but I just don’t feel that he will become SuperCoach relevant. The only other backup we appear to have is Stephen Crichton ($252.8k, CTW). He is a talented player and maybe one to watch if he gets another chance in first grade.

In the halves, we have Matt Burton ($211.9k, HFB), Tyrone May ($240.7k, 5/8) and Dean Blore ($171.9k, 5/8). Burton has also had one game in the NRL and, again, performed admirably. I just can’t see him getting a start ahead of Luai. Tyrone May is not eligible until round 5. Dean Blore has potential but I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in first grade this year unless there are significant injuries.

There are a couple of promising forwards waiting in the wings. Billy (William) Burns ($231.4k, 2RF) has been a consistently good performer coming through the ranks and put on a bit of a show playing in the centres in the last game against Newcastle last year. He is an edge back rower with speed, anticipation and a step. However, with Kikau, Yeo and Capewell there, I think he will be another waiting in the wings for the present time.

Jack Hetherington ($201k, FRF) is another interesting proposition. He is big, strong and has a surprising turn of speed despite his size. Has a reputation for lack of discipline which has seen him sidelined frequently over the years. He suffered a fractured sternum last year requiring surgery. At one point Canberra showed some interest but apparently dropped off when they learned of his injury. Has the ability to play first grade but will he be considered?

Finally, another couple of favourites of mine: Josh Mansour ($416.7k, CTW) and Isaah Yeo ($404.8k, 2RF / CTW). Josh was a gun before he ruptured his ACL over in England during the World Cup tour. Returned to Australia only to suffer horrific facial fractures in a collision with Anthony Don’s knee. Since then, he appears to have lost a lot of confidence. Whether or not he can find that again remains to be seen.

Yeo played almost the entire season last year with a busted shoulder. He is the epitome of selflessness and played on throughout the season until finally succumbing in the penultimate round, suffering two more dislocations throughout the year. I’m not sure how the coach feels about him and he has brought in Capewell. Despite being dual position this year I am not confident about his job security.

So there we have it. I have concerns for the team this year and, especially, the lack of depth in the outside backs. Despite that, I have managed to find room for four Panthers players in my SuperCoach squad. I would like to think that I have been objective but my partner tells me that I don’t have an objective bone in my body.

Hopefully, these ramblings will provide food for thought I wish you all the very best of luck for the coming season.

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Jase3377 (@jase3377)
7 months ago

Logged on to say a big thanks for this write up. Very well written, great insight!
The personal touch with the players is great.
Thanks mate

Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  Jase3377
7 months ago

Thanks Jase. I appreciate it.

sidrwayne (@sidrwayne)
7 months ago

Awesome writeup!
Keen to gauge thoughts on Liam Martin. Thought he had some criminally unheralded performances last year. Can see him being a 2020 version of Murray?

Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  sidrwayne
7 months ago

I have always rated Liam. Very hard in defence and deceptively quick.
With one exception, his IRL form has not translated it to SuperCoach points but I feel that he may be one to watch if he can get more minutes.

marmalade (@marmalade)
7 months ago

Finally got around to reading this piece Watson, very insightful and well articulated so thank you. If I was clever enough to be a medico, then your former role would have been the dream job for any rugby league tragic. No doubt. like all job’s it would still have it’s ups and downs. I’m certain the ‘chocolate soldiers’ were in good hands during that time. Look forward to your comments on this forum again in 2020.

Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  marmalade
7 months ago

Thanks marmalade. Far more ups than downs and the 1991 GF was definitely the highlight. We stayed in Barker St, Randwick the day before the game and I was unable to sleep. We had lost the big one the previous year. I wandered down to the servo at the end of the road at 3am to grab a coffee and, 15 minutes later, I was joined by Gus Gould. We had a chat about life in general but I somehow left that chat feeling far more confident. He just had a knack of knowing what to say and how to… Read more »

j.d. (@j-d)
7 months ago

I know this is an article on the Panthers but I wonder if you have any thoughts on how RCG might go at Parramatta?

Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  j.d.
7 months ago

Hi jd,
I’m expecting a good year from RCG IRL. He’s never really been SuperCoach relevant even when picked for representative honours. However, I think he’s a very good FRF.
He had a few issues last year (including suffering two broken jaws: one at the end of 2018; and the second during preseason training 2019) but, hopefully, he has overcome those.
For his sake, I hope he does well this year.

Hitro Okesene
Hitro Okesene (@antonposa)
7 months ago

Great article mate. Setting the bar nice and high.

Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  Hitro Okesene
7 months ago

Thanks Hitro. I appreciate the sentiment.

Zeppelin (@zeppelin)
7 months ago

Finally, somebody mentions Hetherington! The dude has a big motor but doesn’t get much game time. Cleary seems like a fickle coach, always changing his team, so it’s hard to buy into Penrith players too much.

For me, that fourth FRF spot was between Hetherington & Collins from the Roosters but the review you gave Leniu makes him a MAYBE ❓


Watson (@hastings)
Reply to  Zeppelin
7 months ago

I agree Zeppelin. There is no doubt that Jack can play.
Unfortunately, he has a bit of a short fuse and ill discipline on the field has cost him dearly over the years. Having said that, I would certainly persevere with him. As he matures one would hope that the ill discipline lessens and we can see his true footballing ability.

Zeppelin (@zeppelin)
Reply to  Watson
7 months ago

You have a real connection with Penrith so your insights do have a lot of credibility 😎 It’s just a shame that more of these blokes aren’t DPP. Like William Burns scores a double at CTW, in his one game last season but gets allocated 2RF only, this season.

imho Tetevano will be a bust which is why i was looking around for progressive FWDs at Penrith.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x