A woeful start to the season that included seven defeats from the opening nine games proved fatal to the Panthers’ Premiership hopes in 2017 – despite a dramatic upturn in form from May onwards. But can Penrith now kick on and really challenge for title honours in 2018?

Central to any hopes of progression, though, is keeping this young squad together and then finding an extra edge and some consistency – something which is typical of the top teams: the Storm, Broncos, Roosters, and Cowboys.

Of course, despite his inconsistent performances in 2017, the bitter exit of Matt Moylan, who moved to Cronulla, was a disappointment and shock, but, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t prove detrimental to Panthers’ hopes in 2018. And, with James Maloney moving in the opposite direction, this will provide the Panthers with some much-needed experience – with the 31-year-old having represented NWS and Australia and won Premierships at the Roosters and the Sharks.

Source: James Maloney via Facebook

Indeed, a new face with a better character fit than Moylan in the captain role may well provide much-needed leadership for this fledgling side, with Peter Wallace, Trent Merrin, and Isaah Yeo frontrunners to take the added responsibility. Speaking with regards to the captaincy, coach Anthony Griffin admitted that Peter Wallace has the edge at moment due to the way he handled the team in the latter stages of last season.

Panthers in 2018

Their season kicks off on Sunday, March 11 against their nemesis, Parramatta Eels, with the Panthers slight 8/11 favourites. It’s key that the Panthers get off to a better start against the Eels than they did last season, sliding 18-0 behind before a late resurgence pulled it back to 18-12, with a rare try from Peta Hiku and then Corey Harawira-Naer reducing the deficit – but it was ultimately too late. Punters who don’t want to take that risk again can back the Panthers with a free bet available via the Champion Bets website.

First, though, Griffin still faces a battle to keep Nathan Cleary a Panthers’ man, with strong rumours he is keen to join his dad at West Tigers – although, the 20-year-old half remains under contract at the Penrith Stadium until the end of the 2019 season.

The prospect of playing alongside Maloney, though, may provide Cleary with an extra incentive to stick with the Panthers for the time being at least. Maloney has also spoken positively about the prospect of linking up with Cleary, saying, “I’ve actually known Nathan for a long time because he was my ball boy at the Warriors. I’m looking forward to playing alongside him and hopefully helping him take his game to the next level.”

For the Penrith Panthers and Anthony Griffin, though, the key goal for the season is to finally realise their potential. A top-four finish is a must and a greater consistency of performances is essential to achieving that. The Panthers simply can’t get off to another costly slow start for a third consecutive season, making the grudge opening tie against the Eels even more important than usual.