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.

GUNS

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.

Sleepers

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.

Cheapies

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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Justin
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Justin

Love the insight mate! Cleary a lock and Api definitely in calculations (where’s the Sombrero?). Great stuff!!

Watson
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Watson

Thanks Justin. Just a few random thoughts.
I’m pleased that you liked it.

BunnyAllStars
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BunnyAllStars

Cracking effort Watson. Much appreciated. Heard my bunnies sniffing around the Panthers. Sele who you guys released but more keen on Hetherington if they can land him for this year. Have you heard anything?

Watson
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Watson

Thanks BAS. Not sure about Sele. Lovely bloke but I just felt that he wasn’t always motivated to play NRL. This might just be a reflection of his laid-back personality. Hetherington can play. Has a history of significant ill discipline but is tough, strong, skilful and fast. He is the son of Brett Hetherington who used to play for the Raiders. Injured himself early last year and got offside with some of the staff. There was a lot of messing around while trying to sort the injury and I’m not sure how much of this was due to his player… Read more »

BunnyAllStars
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BunnyAllStars

Your a champ. You sure you don’t want to get a job at my beloved Bunnies. We need a man on the inside smile

Watson
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Watson

Lol. Sorry BAS. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Panthers man. wink

j.d.
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j.d.

Wow, great insight!

Watson
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Watson

Thanks jd.

Grizzle
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Grizzle

Thank you Watson, great write up!!

Watson
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Watson

Thanks Grizzle. I appreciate it.
(Then again, you may just be comparing it with the write-ups of our friend, Elliott… wink ).

2bax
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2bax

interesting read Watson, thanks for the effort and good luck for season. Hope you enjoy the different perspective you’re bound to have from the lounge!
Any chance capewell picks up enough minutes to have him at CTW?

Watson
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Watson

Thanks 2bax. The coach brought Capewell to the club for a reason. While I can’t see him starting at CTW, we don’t have a lot of depth in that area and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him there at some stage of the season. Regardless, I suspect that he will get plenty of minutes. From memory (and there are others on this site will be able to correct me), he put on a mammoth score playing CTW for Cronulla a couple of years ago. I shall indeed enjoy a very different perspective this year, leaning back and… Read more »

2bax
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2bax

thanks for the reply, mich appreciated. With capewell i meant in SC at CTW as he’s dual. I think you answered my question regardless wink thanks again

BOB
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BOB

Love your work Doc. Hopefully Leniu can be that cheapie we all need. Cheers.

Watson
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Watson

Thanks Bob. If he can get the minutes I think he’ll get the scores.
Good luck for the year.

Stilesy
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Some fantastic personal insights there mate to go along with the SC implications. Well done!!

Watson
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Watson

Thanks Stilesy.
I used your write-up for the template. I must have read it 20 times and feel that I now know the Broncos almost as well as I do the Panthers. Semisonic also had a huge input with the presentation.
Good luck for SuperCoach 2020.

perrin_07
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perrin_07

Great write up!

Watson
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Watson

Thanks perrin.
I actually enjoyed doing it. Good luck for the year.

Magpies4Eva007
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Magpies4Eva007

Great read Watson as I knew it would be. Loved hearing all the behind the scenes stuff after meeting you last year. All the best both in Supercoach and in your next phase of footy/personal life!

Watson
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Watson

Hi Magpies.
Thanks for the thumbs up. I’m not able to be quite as open on the site as I am enjoying a cold ale so we’ll have to make sure we get together again later this year.
All the very best to you. My next phase is enjoying the footy without responsibility. It can’t get better than that.

TurkeySnow
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Hey Watson Can you send me a message on my FB page, so I can bounce ideas of you throughout the season?

Watson
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Watson

Hi TurkeySnow.
I’m not especially computer literate. How do I send you a message on your Facebook page?

Rooters
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Rooters

Enjoyed the write up, are there any players you don’t like (joking). I’m not sure how worried I’d be about the players you’ve released, the club has a pretty good record of moving on duds (Carty, Latu, Moylan etc.). As much as I like Kikau I’d have to agree about being short of gun status. His inability to play 80 on the edge and questionable defence will always leave him short.

Watson
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Watson

Thanks Rooters. The three players you mention were all destined to fail in my opinion. It is well documented that Carty had a lot of personal issues before he left and I think this took its toll. Lealani had ability but regularly came to pre-season overweight and I think motivation was a problem with him. Moylan had all of the ability in the world and would have been a star in the 70s when players worked and partied during the week and played football on the weekend. Unfortunately, I don’t think he realised the importance of rehab and this has… Read more »

Rooters
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Rooters

Yeah, hard to say. RCG seemed a bit of a shell of the player he was pre injury. I don’t mind Naden and To’o as replacements for Blake & DWZ going, Maloney is a huge loss from any club though I’m not sure he was a good fit for Cleary. Api I think is an upgrade from Katoa & Egan as long as he can stay healthy. The main issue is, as you mentioned, depth. Surely after last year you guys deserve a bit of a break on the injury front. The other issue is Ivan, I (and many others)… Read more »

Watson
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Watson

I totally agree on so many levels Rooters. I’m hopeful Baz’s input will see a significant improvement in our attack and, from what I’m hearing, his input has been significant to say the least…