Penrith Panthers went so close to their third victory of 2016 in going down to North Queensland Cowboys 18-23 at Pepper Stadium in front of season high crowd 13,725.
Their two wins and four losses will see the club finish in twelfth spot at the end of round 6 in this year’s NRL Premiership.
There’s a lot to like about Anthony Griffin’s Panthers.
It was evident again last night the level of commitment and competitiveness was refreshing. Penrith have been in the contest in every game this year.
As Andrew Voss continues to say (even through last night’s game), Penrith have been the best performing side that are placed in the bottom eight.
Matt Moylan’s return has been nothing short of brilliant. Fox Sports commentator Gary Belcher saying Moylan’s read of Johnathan Thurston’s kicking game was the best he’s seen from any fullback coming up against the Cowboys legend.
Trent Merrin had an outstanding game in scoring a try and putting a bone crushing hit on Antonio Winterstein in the final ten minutes.
The skills of Bryce Cartwright were again on show. His efforts to set up the opening try for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak was superb. It would not surprise me if Cartwright is an outside chance for the Kangaroos team and strongly considered as a bench player as part of Laurie Daley’s 2016 Blues campaign.
Te Maire Martin is emerging, learning his trade alongside veteran play makers Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace. I expect in the next few weeks TMM will inject himself more into the game and we may see his kicking game emerge.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Sam McKendry are playing out of their skins and remind me of the combination Martin Lang and Joel Clinton that elevated the Panthers to 2003 glory.
The signs on-field are good, very good.
Looking back over time it’s not only coach Griffin who finds himself languishing in the bottom half of the table after the first half dozen matches as Panthers coach.
Griffin has recorded 2 wins, 4 losses and averaged 18.5 in attack and 20.8 in defence.
His predecessor Ivan Cleary took over the Panthers from Matthew Elliott in 2012. At his expense was Lachlan Coote, Michael Jennings, Michael Gordon and Luke Lewis.
Cleary after six matches had 2 wins, 4 losses and averaged 18.2 in attack and 18.8 in defence. Penrith were in twelfth after six rounds and finished 15th.
Then there was the Elliott era which started in 2007. That year he inherited from John Lang some Panthers legends.
Rhys Wesser, Craig Gower, Luke Priddis, Tony Puletua and Trent Waterhouse. Along with Luke Rooney and Lewis, the side was in transition from Grand Finalists in 2003 with many of these legends moving on soon after.
Elliott in 2007 after six matches recorded 2 wins, 4 losses and averaged 20.8 in attack and 22.8 in defence. Penrith were twelfth after six rounds but ended up with the wooden spoon.
John Lang was in rebuild phase in 2002 when he took over from Royce Simmons. He had the spine of Wesser, Gower and Priddis which would carry the Panthers to their second premiership just a year later.
Lang in his first year was win-less after six games and was in fourteenth position before finishing the season in twelfth.
Simmons started his coaching career in 1995 in the midst of the Super League war with Brad Fittler about to walk out on the club to join the Sydney Roosters.
In Simmons first year after six matches had a record of 2 wins, 4 losses and averaged 18.0 in attack and 21.7 in defence. The Panthers were twelfth at the time and ended the season in fourteenth spot.
A common theme from four of the last five coaches has been 2 wins and 4 losses after six games. In every instance the club has missed out on playing finals footy.
For Panther fans it could be a frustrating 2016 with so much talent and not much to show in way of results.
The next four games see Penrith travel to Sydney Roosters before a visit to Cronulla, followed by a ‘home’ Bathurst game against Canberra and New Zealand Warriors at Christchurch in another ‘home’ away from home.
Penrith on current form could potentially be five from ten which wouldn’t be a bad effort.
I would like to think with the personnel at their expense that Penrith could emulate John Lang’s efforts in 2003 and have a good crack at the title in 2017.