20 matches: 10 wins, 10 losses
Top point scorer: Ryan Girdler – 197 [11 tries, 76 goals, 1 field goal]
Top try scorer: Ryan Girdler – 11
Player of the year: Ryan Girdler
In late 1996 it was confirmed that the Super League competition could proceed in 1997.
In a competition that was a break from tradition in many senses of the word, one of the key changes was that each player were assigned a squad number that would also be their jersey number for the season, instead of the usual 1 to 13 for the positions. Gone also was the licorice all sorts jersey and in was a rather eye catching design that looked like zebra roadkill.
Penrith hit the ground running winning their first four matches to be competition leaders after four rounds, and at the midway point were second only to eventual minor premiers Brisbane. Despite suffering some wobbles in the second half of the season, where they won only of their last nine they were able to make a return to the finals for the first time since their grand final triumph in 1997. In the first week of the finals, they hung on by one point to defeat Canterbury at Belmore but would be eliminated the following week by the Raiders in Canberra.
1997 also saw the World Club Championship – a pool competition in which Australian teams played 3 teams from the English Super League in a home and away format. The had two windows in which the premiership was suspended – Penrith travelled to the UK in June for their 3 away matches, and then in July hosted their 3 return matches at home. Penrith was seeded in the stronger 6 team Australasian Pool A, playing 3 English teams from the European Pool A. The top 3 teams from Australasian Pool A would advance past the group stage – despite winning all 6 matches, Penrith finished 4th, with a positive for and against 40 points less than 3rd placed Cronulla.
It would also be a breakout season for two Panthers players who would mould the fortunes of the club in the coming seasons – Ryan Girdler topped both the club and premiership points tally with 197 points, whilst Craig Gower stamped his authority as one of the game’s brightest young prospects and at season’s end at just the age of 19 was the Australian halfback in the Super League Tests versus Great Britain.
In the lower grades, the Panthers won the Under 18s title.