Panthers celebrating their grand final victory. Photo: nrl.com

Fresh off winning the 2021 NRL Premiership, the Panthers are now gearing up to win the clubs first ever back-to-back title.

Fresh off winning the 2021 NRL Premiership, father-son duo coach Ivan Cleary and playmaker Nathan Cleary are gearing up to win the club’s first ever back-to-back title. Will the Panthers back up last year’s brilliance or will the young team experience a premiership hangover?

Last season

Penrith capped off a superb 2021 campaign by defeating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 14-12 to win the NRL premiership at Suncorp Stadium.

The Panthers lost just three matches in the regular season but were brought undone by the Rabbitohs in the qualifying final, before steadying the ship again and defeating the Eels, Storm and Rabbitohs throughout the finals series on the way to winning the flag.

One of the key factors of Penrith’s run last season was their ability to stay healthy. It’s often said in sporting circles that the teams that have the least number of injuries often go deep into the season and this was certainly the case with Penrith. The Panthers used just 29 players across the board which was the second lowest amount competition wide.

Another key component of the Panther’s play style last season was their ability to apply pressure to their opponents for long periods of time. Over the course of the season, the Panthers recorded 54.3% territory dominance (ranked 1st in competition), 276 goodball sets (1st in competition), 52 repeat sets (1st in competition) and 445 kick pressures (2nd in competition). Their performances throughout the finals campaign, especially in the first half of the grand final, epitomised their season, where they did not give their opponents time or space to create plays.

Squad changes


Christian Crichton (Bulldogs), Chris Smith (Bulldogs), Sean O’Sullivan (Warriors)


Matt Burton (Bulldogs), Kurt Capewell (Broncos), Tyrone May (Catalans), Paul Momirovski (Roosters), Brent Naden (Bulldogs), Tevita Pangai Jnr (Bulldogs)

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Track watch

Izack Tago lit up the trial match against the Sharks, recording a try assist and causing damage on the left, whilst Sean O’Sullivan showed he is more than capable of filling in for Nathan Cleary, should the superstar halfback be unfit for Round 1.

Club legend Mark Geyer’s son, Mavrik Geyer, also pulled on the Panthers jersey for the first time and made an immediate impact, which would have delighted Penrith fans. The youngster entered the match just after half time and was a handful for the Sharks, scoring a try and recording a try assist.

Kurt Falls looked good too throughout the hit out and went at 100% off the tee.

What to expect

There have been several off-season departures and how these players are replaced remains to be seen. The trio of Matt Burton, Brent Naden and Tevita Pangai Jnr are off to the Bulldogs whilst Kurt Capewell will play for Brisbane in 2022 and Paul Momirovski will play for Sydney.

Expect Stephen Crichton to move back into his preferred position whilst there is a plethora of options to fill the Capewell sized hole given the forward depth Penrith has. At this point in time, Viliame Kikau or Liam Martin loom as the frontrunners.  

It’s a reasonably tough opening month for the Panthers, who may be without reigning Clive Churchill Medallist Nathan Cleary who is dealing with a shoulder injury. O’Sullivan looks as though he can step in to replace Cleary, but banking at least a couple of wins over that first month will be pivotal in starting the season off strongly.

It’s a big year for?

Izack Tago

It is widely believed that the versatile youngster is set to have a breakout season in 2022. Tago can play both centre and second row and looks set to feature in a centre spot come Round 1.

His form throughout the NSW Cup last year was exciting for Panthers fans too, he scored eight tries and broke 37 tackles in just six matches.

Tago played six top-flight games in 2021, after earning the chance to debut in Round 13. He averaged 38 minutes, 58.8 run metres and 13.2 tackles per game, but expect this to soar with greater opportunity in 2022.

He is set to help fill the voids left by Paul Momirovski, Brent Naden and Matt Burton who have departed the club in the off-season.

Biggest unanswered question?

Can the young Panthers side avoid a premiership hangover?

It’s always a question mark surrounding the side who wins the ultimate prize the year before and it’s one that will be asked of Penrith early on.

NRL Legend Cameron Smith is one of many pundits who worries the Panthers young stars may start slow, content with their premiership win in 2021.

“They’ve got a really young squad who I’d like to think are still hungry and not satisfied with winning the competition and then just turning up in 2022,” he said at the Magic Round launch.

“That will be the biggest threat for the Panthers this year.

“I wouldn’t say they’re complacent, but being satisfied with winning the competition in 2021.”

Coaching pressure index


After winning last season’s premiership, Ivan Cleary is right at the bottom of the coaching pressure index in 2022.

Cleary wasn’t just a one season wonder either, his 2020 campaign also turned heads when he transformed the 10th placed Panthers into a grand final worthy side, going one better a year later.

Contract-wise Cleary is in no rush either, having signed a five-year deal keeping him at the club until the end of the 2023 season.

Predicted round one lineup

The Panthers head into their premiership defence with a very healthy squad.

Whilst Cleary still remains in some doubt for round one, he remains confident he will be right to go but won’t take any risks heading into a long season.

Liam Martin will graduate from the bench to fill the void left behind Capewell’s departure.

Ladder range

1st – 4th

It appears the Panthers will be thereabouts again in 2022, as they look to go back-to-back for the first time in the club’s history.

They’ll likely compete for the top two with arch-rivals the Melbourne Storm once more, as they begin their quest for a fourth premiership.

The Panthers are set to kickstart the 2022 NRL season against the Manly Sea Eagles on the 10th of March.

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