Auckland born St. Mary’s junior who was a part of the Jersey Flegg premiership winning team in 2007 and was a member of the inaugural Under 20s Toyota Cup squad in 2008.
After a series of strong performances throughout the season, he received an unexpected call up to the NRL squad, making his NRL debut in the penultimate round, coming off the bench against the Warriors in Auckland. He would retain his spot in the 17, once again coming off the bench in the final round versus eventual premiers Manly.
Whilst he would be part of the NRL squad in 2009, he would not add to his appearances, but remained a regular in the NSW Cup, with his final appearance being for the Windsor Wolves in the 2010 NSW Cup grand final.
He would later go to both St. George Illawarra and Parramatta but would not return to the NRL at both clubs, before shifting to France in 2013 and returning to Australia in 2014, firstly for the Wyong Roos in the NSW Cup and then playing out his career for his junior club in the Penrith A Grade competition.
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Auckland born, St. Mary’s junior who was in the Under 20s squad in 2008.
He made his NRL debut in the final premiership round when he was named as a last minute replacement, starting in the centres.
It would his solitary appearance for the Panthers, signing with Melbourne for the 2009 season.
After two seasons and five more NRL appearances, he signed with Castleford in the English Super League for 2011, and has made nearly 250 appearances in that competition to the end of 2020, also with Widnes and currently with Wigan.
Darwin junior who later moved to Brisbane and then played Jersey Flegg with Cronulla before signing with the Panthers for the 2008 season.
He was part of the inaugural Toyota Cup (Under 20s squad) and in 2009 was made part of the NRL squad. Primarily a hooker, he made his NRL debut for the Panthers in Round 8 against the Raiders, coming off the bench. He would make two more appearances later in the season, also off the bench.
He would be sacked by the Panthers in March 2010 for disciplinary reasons, and soon after signed with Canterury. After four seasons, he signed with Melbourne in 2014, where he played what would be his final two NRL matches. He would play out his career with Easts Tigers in the Queensland Cup, however would later spend time in jail for a string of criminal offences.
The visitors scored the first try inside the opening five minutes to lead 6-0 but was soon after countered when a Luke Lewis cut out pass hit Michael Gordon straight on the chest and he had a clear run to the line. His conversion made it 6-all.
The Cowboys hit the front again to lead 12-6, with a Brad Tighe try in the 27th minute cutting it to a 2-point deficit, which remained as such with the sideline conversion not successful.
With just over 5 minutes remaining, the Cowboys third try saw them head into the half time break leading 16-10.
The half time score did not change until the 69th minute when Nathan Smith broke the line at the halfway and found Kevin Kingston looming in support on his inside, with a well-timed pass and a saloon passage to the tryline, planting it straight under the black dot. Gordon’s conversion tied it up at 16-all.
The Panthers hit the lead with just over five minutes remaining when Gordon ran the ball from dummy half and scooted through a defensive gap, stepping and jinking his way to complete a 55 metre solo effort, with his conversion making it 22-16.
A late penalty conversion t the home team did nothing more than extend their final winning margin.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a try to Shane Elford.
The home team built on their lead through tries to club debutants Nigel Plum and Kevin Kingston, and when Michael Gordon converted Lachlan Coote’s try on the half hour mark, Penrith had a 22-0 lead which they took into the half time break.
However, the Raiders would strike back in the second half, crossing for the next three tries to narrow the Panthers lead to 6 with just over 20 minutes remaining.
In the 62nd minute, another club debutant Adrian Purtell grabbed a 100 metre intercept try to increase the buffer, and then they iced the contest with 5 minutes remaining with a second try to Coote to record their first opening round victory since 2000.
The Panthers first serious hit out for 2020 was the Perth Nines tournament in early February – after being one of the form teams throughout the group stage, they were rather controversially eliminated by the Dragons in the quarter final, losing on the siren to a try that on replay was shown to be grounded over the dead ball line.
The opening round in mid-March started in the looming shadows of the coronavirus pandemic. Defending premiers Sydney Roosters visited Panthers Stadium, and went back east empty handed, with Penrith over running their opposition in the second half to record a well deserved 20-14 victory.
With government restrictions soon after imposed on the gathering of public crowds, the second round proceeded, but with crowds locked out. At an empty Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, they out lasted St. George Illawarra in a high scoring encounter.
With ever growing concerns of public safety arising from the pandemic, the season was suspended the following week. Whilst there were initial fears that the season could not resume, it was soon confirmed that a resumption date of 28 May had been targeted, however would be subject to strict biosecurity measures. All 16 teams would be placed in ‘bubbles’ which restricted their movements away from training and matches – in late April, halfback Nathan Cleary was fined and suspended by the NRL for a breach of the bubble.
A revised draw was released, and the premiership rounds reduced from 25 to 20, with the finals series pushed back three weeks and a late October grand final. Any points earned from the first two rounds would be retained, which was of benefit to the undefeated Panthers, although there were five other teams that enjoyed that record and were sixth on the table based on for and against.
Another biosecurity measure was restricting the number of venues, with the NSW based teams as well as Canberra being allocated one of three stadiums as their designated home ground. Panthers Stadium did not make the cut and as such they had to travel to Campbelltown Stadium for their home matches. However, there was a glimmer of hope – if the situation improved, this may only been a short-term measure with the possibility of teams being able to return to their home grounds later in the season.
It was at Campbelltown where the season resumed for Penrith, with a rare golden point draw against Newcastle, once again in an empty stadium.
Throughout June, they would record a big win against the NZ Warriors (which due to international travel restrictions had agreed to be based in Australia for the whole season), a tight loss to neighbours Parramatta, hard-fought victories against Melbourne and South Sydney, and had climbed to second on the ladder. The Panthers were starting to emerge as a premiership threat – their issues with attack had been remedied, often passing 30 points in a match. In their 56-24 hiding over the Sharks in Round 9, Charlie Staines crossed for four tries in a record equalling performance for a player on debut.
Furthermore they had turned into a formidable defensive unit – the Panthers held the remarkable record through the first 15 rounds of keeping their opposition scoreless in the first 20 minutes.
In July, they returned home to Panthers Stadium, and with it crowds – albeit at a 25% capacity, and their victory over North Queensland saw them gain the outright competition lead.
It would be a spot they would not relinquish for the remainder of the premiership season, as they embarked on a record-breaking season – firstly, they recorded their best ever start to a season in Round 11 with victory over the Gold Coast Titans, and soon after the club record of 8 wins in a row set in 2003 was broken with a victory over the Warriors at Gosford, and it kept growing as the premiership rounds were drawing to a close.
In the penultimate round, the Panthers secured their third minor premiership with an away victory against North Queensland and sealed their dominant season in the premiership rounds with a record breaking 42-0 victory over Canterbury. This was their 15th straight victory and Penrith had recorded the best season for any team since St. George in 1959, losing only one match (and one draw) throughout the 20 premiership rounds. Furthermore, they remained undefeated at Panthers Stadium.
As minor premiers, the Panthers had earned a home final at Panthers Stadium and were to play the Sydney Roosters. The ever-improving situation with the corona virus had seen the NSW government increase capacity to 50% for the finals. After conceding the first two tries to trail 10-0, the Panthers surged with 26 unanswered points (including a first half hat trick to Nathan Cleary) to lead 26-10. However, they had to withstand a comeback from the Roosters, and in the end a Nathan Cleary field goal was the difference. Their victory by the narrowest of margins earnt them a week off and straight to the preliminary final.
Their opponents would be the resurgent South Sydney, who had entered the finals series as one of the form teams. After conceding the first try, the Panthers scored the next two to hold a 14-6 half time lead. The Rabbitohs would cut it to a two-point margin, before stretching ahead to 20-12. Whilst the Rabbitohs finished the match strongly, they were not able to completely bridge the deficit and the Panthers hung on to qualify for their first grand final since 2003.
They had also extended their streak to 17 matches, the equal longest in the NRL era (1998 onwards), matching the 2002 Bulldogs.
Whilst the favourite amongst many pundits, Nathan Cleary missed out on the Dally M medal, however was one of a number of players in the Dally M Team of the Year, alongside Stephen Crichton, Viliam Kikau, James Fisher-Harris and Isaah Yeo, with Ivan Cleary awarded the Dally M Coach of the Year. Stephen Crichton was in the mix for Rookie of the Year but also missed out on the award.
Up against the more experienced Melbourne Storm in the decider, the Panthers turned in their worst performance of the season, trailing 22-0 at half time. This was soon extended to 26-0 after the resumption, before a stirring comeback with four unanswered tries saw them fall 6 points short at full time – but not before being given one last opportunity with seconds remaining to potentially force it to golden point.
It was a disappointing end to one of the most dominant seasons ever witnessed, however a number of players were rewarded with selection for both New South Wales and Queensland in the rescheduled State of Origin series that occurred after the grand final.
In December, Nathan Cleary was awarded the Merv Cartwright Medal for player of the year.
North Coast (Grafton) junior who was signed by the Panthers and started with the S.G. Ball team in 2017. In 2018, his performances in the Jersey Flegg saw him named the club’s player of the year in that competition.
In 2020, he earned a development spot in the NRL squad and in Round 13 made his NRL debut for the Panthers, coming off the bench in the second half in their big win over Canberra. After another appearance off the bench a couple of weeks later, his third and final appearance was as the starting fullback in their 42-0 record breaking victory against Canterbury in the final premiership round.
Soon after the completion of the season, he signed with the Wests Tigers for 2022 and beyond, however is still contracted with the Panthers for 2021 but may still be released to the Tigers before the start of the 2022 season.
Penrith Panthers – from chocolate soldiers to black magic