So close but so far for the Panthers last year – can they rise to the challenge again?
RECRUITMENT: Ivan Cleary refreshed his squad, switching to veterans James Tamou, Josn Mansour, Zane Tetevano and Dean Whare and bringing in Matthew Eisenhuth, Robert Jennings, Paul Momirovski and Jaeman Salmon. On the contrary, they are stronger than last year.
STRONG POINTS: A well-rounded team, two quick-fire halves at Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai and great kids coming up.
WEAKNESSES: The Panthers have the talent to make the Grand Final again, but head games are their greatest danger. After playing so well all last season, they were poor in the big one – and that will play with their minds for a long time.
MAN UNDER PRESSURE: Brent Naden is a superb young talent in crosses, but he needs to regain the confidence of his teammates and fans after his cocaine confession after the grand final.
A LOOK AHEAD: Stephen Crichton was just one of many young Panthers to emerge on the NRL scene last season – the experience he gained in big games should take him to another level.
WHAT THE BOOKIES ARE SAYING: To win $ 5 comp, to make finals $ 1.12 (via Sportsbet) WHAT MOLEY SAYS: The Panthers ambushed many teams last year and really should have won the competition – but will make it harder this time with wary rivals as they are really good. Should still be in the top four and could do it all from there.