A Shallow Dive into the 2022 Penrith Panthers

Your men’s Penrith Panthers finished the 2022 NRL season in first place, winning the minor premiership before going on to win the grand final over Parramatta, 28-12. The Panthers’ attack was the second best in the NRL, scoring 21 points less than the Storm, and only sixth best in franchise history. At 26.5 points scored per game, Penrith’s 2021, 2004, 2003, 2010 and 2020 teams all scored more. They had the best defence in the league, conceding 30 fewer points than the next best team. Again, this is not exceptional by franchise historical standards; it’s only seventh best (behind each team from 1988 through 1991, 2020 and 2021).

Of the top ten NRL seasons by winning percentage, the Panthers now have three: the best in 2020, the fourth best in 2021 and the ninth in 2022. The other clubs in the top ten are the Storm (2007, 2021, 2006, 2017, and 2019), Souths (2021) and Canterbury (2002). If there are two common themes in that top ten, it’s Vlandoball and salary cap cheating. Historically, the Panthers’ last three regular seasons are the sixth best (or fourth best, depending on your view) run in the history of first class* club rugby league and certainly the best in sixty years:

  1. 1925 – 1927 South Sydney (90.9%)
  2. 1924 – 1926 South Sydney (90.3%)
  3. 1957 – 1959 St George (89.8%)
  4. 1958 – 1960 St George (88.0%)
  5. 1915 – 1917 Balmain (88.1%)
  6. 2020 – 2022 Penrith (87.5%)

It’s hard to overstate how dominant they’ve been.

There is no Panthers NRLW team nor one planned in the near future.

*First class is NSWRL/ARL to 1997, Australian Super League in 1997, NRL from 1998, BRL to 1988, RFL’s First Division to 1996 and Super League from 1996.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

Can they go again? Probably not. This is not a “they didn’t deserve to win the premiership” take but rather dusting off the old “it’s pretty hard to win two in a row” take. The same level of desire has got to be there and I can just see Melbourne (last won in 2020), Sydney (2019) and Parramatta (never) being hungrier than Penrith (2021) are. There’s no shame in it, it’s mostly what people are like, and those tiny slivers of difference have outsized impacts on the way the season will unfold if all you care about is who wins on grand final day.

An alternative course of action would be for Cleary to find a new level (somehow) and proceeds to kick the rest of the competition to death. I can envision that as easily as I can see hordes of young Panthers, rising out of the NSW Cup team that lost one game last year, providing youthful enthusiasm and cheap strength that make any lack of desire on the part of the senior premiership-winners irrelevant. It’s basically how they got here in the first place. Ivan Cleary, for his faults, has found a way to channel that feeling into a cascade of points and watertight defence and has two grand finals for his trouble.

The Panthers are hard to rule out, no matter which way you want to slice it, but don’t start as my pre-season favourites.

Well. I guess I’ll just go fuck myself then.

What happened

The Penrith Panthers are your 2022 NRL premiers. But wait, there’s more!

This is a seriously impressive set of achievements, provided you ignore:

  • Harold Matts (3rd with 6-1-1)
  • Neither the SG Ball nor the Jersey Flegg teams played their Queensland counterparts for an interstate title
  • The half dozen NRL clubs that aren’t affiliated with the NSWRL and couldn’t replicate this achievement if they wanted to, due to the structure of rugby league outside of Sydney
  • That the Panthers don’t have a NRLW team, have seemingly never expressed an interest in one, don’t run a women’s team in the NSW Women’s Premiership and their Tarsha Gale team finished 8th (2-4-2).

Even though a double NRLM/NRLW title should be the metric by which professional football clubs are judged by in 2022 (or at least once the NRLW has expanded to cover all the NRLM clubs), the all four grades stuff pushes the right buttons in the kind of derelict, boomer, brainworms-infected Sydney footy brain that pines for the days spent on the hill and when the players were real men (never women) and weren’t overpaid and soft – that is, most of the media – even though it’s clear that no one outside of family and friends of players in the competition actually cares about what happens and the attention paid this year just serves to further Penrith’s NRL narrative and no more.

Anyway, congratulations.

There’s always next year