26 matches: 14 wins, 12 losses
Top point scorer: Nathan Cleary – 228 [11 tries, 92 goals]
Top try scorer: Nathan Cleary – 11
Merv Cartwright Medal: Reagan Campbell-Gillard
In February, the Panthers made a surprise appearance in the pre-season Auckland Nines tournament (their first in any short form tournament), however, their run was put to an end in the final against the Sydney Roosters.
It was a case of back to the future in 2017 with a return of the iconic “licorice allsorts” jersey design which was synonymous with the Panthers in the early to mid-1990s.
Although they were defeated semi finalists in 2016, the betting markets had installed Penrith as premiership favourites entering into the new season. A heavy loss to St. George Illawarra in the opening round was the anchor to an opening two months where the Panthers only won 2 of the first 9 matches.
In Round 10, the Panthers were well and truly on their way to an eight loss when they trailed 28-6 at halftime against the New Zealand Warriors at home. However, four-try burst in 12 minutes in the second half saw Penrith complete their second ever biggest comeback and went on to record a 36-28 victory.
It would provide a catalyst for their season – second last after 10 rounds, the Panthers would climb up the ladder. In the remaining 15 matches of the regular season, the Panthers would only lose four, and a seven match streak late in the season saw them holding on to a spot within the top 8.
It all nearly came undone in their final round match versus Manly, but two late tries reduced the losing margin and gave them a good enough points differential to at the very least be guaranteed eighth spot in the worst scenario. The other results that round saw the Panthers finish seventh.
Meeting Manly again in the first week elimination final, Penrith trailed at half time but overcame the Sea Eagles in the second half to win 22-10. However, just like 2016 the season would end in the second week semi final with a hard fought loss against the Broncos in Brisbane.
In his first full season, Nathan Cleary finished the regular season with 216 points, and in doing so became the youngest player to complete this feat since 1913. His 228 points in total (including the two finals matches) gave him Penrith’s third biggest haul for a season, only behind Michael Gordon with 270 in 2010 and Ryan Girdler with 229 in 1999.
In the lower grades, both the NSW Cup and Under 20s Holden Cup also qualified for the finals. The Under 20s fell one match short of the grand final, whilst the NSW Cup team were crowned premiers, defeating the Wyong Roos in the decider and then defeating the PNG Hunters (Queensland Cup premiers) the following week to win the State Championship.
Forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard had a season to remember, being awarded the Dally M Interchange of the Year award and then the Merv Cartwright Medal and capping it off with a late call up to the Australian World Cup squad and becoming the club’s 20th Kangaroo.