22 matches: 7 wins, 15 losses
Top point scorer: Greg Alexander – 88 [5 tries, 34 goals]
Top try scorer: Ryan Girdler – 8
Player of the Year: Brad Fittler
Looking to put the difficult premiership defence season of 1992 behind them, the Panthers set out to resume their status as one of the top teams of the Winfield Cup.
However, it would soon be anything but that, with Penrith winning only one of their first 10 matches, and slumping to second last on the table. It started with a tight one point loss to neighbours Parramatta in the opening round, with the solitary win in that horror stretch being a comprehensive win against Balmain at Leichhardt Oval in Round 4 – albeit against a fellow team that had also lost their first three and were down to 12 players for the second half – and then followed up by a six match losing streak.
A main contributor – but not the sole reason – was the club’s mounting injury toll, an all too familiar tale. This was mainly typified by club captain John Cartwright only being able to string together five appearances, with the captaincy duties also shared by Greg Alexander (who also finished top point scorer with 88 points) and Brad Fittler.
It also saw coach Phil Gould have to call on a total of 46 players that season. Within that long list included 16 debutants – including future representative player Matt Sing, and another 12 who had been recruited from other clubs. The highest profile was representative centre Mark McGaw from Cronulla, but he would spend just the one season at Penrith before seeking a release. Another was Ryan Girdler, a goal kicking centre signed from Illawarra and who made 16 appearances in the first of his twelve seasons, and would finish the top try scorer with 8. Two more were the Adamson brothers from Parramatta – Matt would establish himself in the backline whilst his brother Phil had a brighter season in the forwards, and finished third in the Norwich Rising Star competition for rookie of the year.
Penrith were able to arrest the slide with a mid-season resurgence by winning four of their next six. A drought breaking win over the only team below them, the Gold Coast, was met with relief if anything else, and was followed up by wins over South Sydney, Newcastle and Parramatta. However, the damage had already been done from earlier in the season, and were already well out of premiership contention. They had only climbed up two spots by Round 16, and were 11 points adrift of the top 5.
Heading into the final month of the competition, Penrith were scheduled to play against four of the teams that would finish in the top five – they raced out of the blocks and ultimately outlasted St. George in a well-deserved 18-14 win at Penrith Stadium, and were far from disgraced against Canterbury, Canberra and eventual premiers Brisbane.
Penrith finished the season on a winning note with a tight 10-6 win over Cronulla, and overall had registered a total of seven wins and finished 13th on the table.
The reserve grade team fared much worse than the first grade team, earning the wooden spoon, however, the President’s Cup were the bright spot for 1993, finishing third on the ladder and falling one match short of the grand final.
Brad Fittler’s continuing growth as a player and leader was justly rewarded by being awarded as the player of the year.