Penrith Panthers well stocked for Grand Final return

Penrith Panthers were outstanding in the 2020 NRL season, but the ultimate goal of the Premiership evaded the club as the Melbourne Storm defeated Ivan Cleary and his men in the Grand Final.

The Panthers won 18 of their 20 regular-season games, losing only once to Parramatta Eels in week five of the campaign. From that point onwards, Penrith reeled off a 17-match winning run to charge into the Grand Final. Cleary’s team overcame the reigning NRL champion Sydney Roosters in the Qualifying Final before dispatching South Sydney Rabbitohs in the Preliminary Finals.

Melbourne stood in their way of their first Premiership since 2003. However, the Storm came out of the traps firing and built a dominant advantage. The Panthers were not willing to go down without a fight and produced an incredible comeback from a 26-point deficit. Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Josh Mansour and Nathan Cleary all notched second-half tries, but Melbourne hung on at the end to clinch their fourth NRL crown.

The challenge for Cleary and his team will be to return to the Grand Final next season. They can take heed from their conquerors in their bid to overcome their defeat. The Storm was the last side to lose a Grand Final before going on to win the Premiership the following season in 2016.

Penrith are the leading contenders to win the title next season among the leading bookmakers. Given their status as favourites, it’s worth monitoring the latest developments in rugby league to find the best value, especially considering their issues in the post-season. Outright betting on the Premiership offers odds on all 16 teams in the NRL to win the crown and bookmakers will tend to follow the same pattern, although they can differ based on their own personal preferences. Therefore, surveying as wide a variety as possible is a good plan as they all offer different offers and welcome bonuses.

The Panthers have not won the Premiership for 17 years and it will take a supreme effort to get over the line next season, although Cleary and the club’s hierarchy have been at work already to prepare for the new term.

James Tamou has left the Panthers to join Wests Tigers, leaving a leadership void. Isaah Yeo will take over the captaincy in the 2021 campaign, although he has significant shoes to fill. Penrith has many talented upstarts, who will have been richer for the experience of their defeat in the Grand Final.

They were flawless throughout the 2020 regular season and expect them to continue in that manner – led by the outstanding Cleary. Only Rabbitohs’ Adam Reynolds scored more points than Cleary last season, who was a model of consistency throughout the regular season with the boot. The 23-year-old more than most will have a point to prove after his mistake in the first half of the Grand Final when Suliasi Vunivalu intercepted his wayward pass for a try. He almost atoned for his error by leading the comeback, including his late score, but it was not to be for the Panthers. Cleary is on an upward trajectory and expects him to dominate the NRL in 2021.

Stephen Crichton is on the same pathway at the age of 20. The winger emerged as one of the potent try-scorers in the league, notching 17 in only 22 appearances. He did make his fair share of mistakes, but those are to be expected of a player in the early stages of his career. Crichton will be the thorn in the side of teams up and down the NRL for years to come. Penrith certainly has a superstar in the making on the wing.

Jarome Luai also enjoyed a breakout season with seven tries to his name, while leading the league in try assists alongside Shaun Johnson. The Samoa international has the scope to become one of the most formidable players in the game, although the Panthers still need to lock down the five-eighth to a long-term deal amid the lurking presence of their rivals to steal his signature.

Penrith has a core of talented players that will form the basis of their title challenges for at least the next five years. The club was sensational last term, but Ivan Cleary has to ensure that it was only the beginning for his team. They are still to achieve their goal of ending their 17-year Premiership drought. However, with the calibre of players on their roster for next season, it could soon be over.

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