One of the off-season’s biggest dramas was bickering between the NRL and its clubs over the funding allocation following the new television deal. The dissension lead to lots of hyperbolic talk about Super League splits and the death of the game, as do many of rugby league’s dissensions. The issue seemed to have been partly resolved before Christmas but there is still no salary cap for the 2018 season. This has made it difficult for players and teams to agree contracts beyond 2018 as teams don’t know how much they have to spend and players don’t know if they will be getting market value. The Panthers have been a little bit different, they haven’t waited around to see how the new salary cap shakes out, they have just been working business as usual and that means they have the highest number of players under contract for 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Here’s the full list of players under contract for each team:
I don’t know enough about the NRL’s salary cap or player contracts to really provide a reasoned analysis of whether the Panthers’ approach is good or bad but at face value it has to be a good thing. They have a young nucleus of players that are basically all locked up and if their contracts don’t include ratchet clauses the Panthers could have the bonus of getting players at 2017 market value freeing up more 2018 and beyond money. Compare that to the situation the Sharks are in. They have the potential benefit of being able to splash money where ever they want when they know how much they have to spend, but the potential risk that all the other teams will be sniffing around their talent. As a fan, I know where I’d rather be; with the certainty presented by the Panthers.
If you are interested the players with contracts that last till at least 2021 are Kayln Ponga (Knights), Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan (Panthers), Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs) and Daly Cherry Evans (Sea Eagles). This time next year there will probably be dozens of players with contracts lasting to 2021 and beyond.
On the field the Panthers had a lot of negative plays last season. They were 3rd in missed tackles, 6th in errors and 6th in penalties conceded. That left them better than only the Knights and Titans for the most negative plays. This isn’t an unprecedented low for the Panthers as they were 2nd worst in 2015 and 4th worst in 2014. The level of missed tackles is alarming but it has never translated to points against, the Panthers were 3rd worst in missed tackles last year but 8 th in points conceded. In 2015 they were 2nd worst in missed tackles but 8th in points conceded. Meanwhile in both seasons the side with most missed tackles also conceded the most points (2016: Knights, 2015: Titans).
The Panthers enter 2017 with pretty high expectations but there are two factors that will determine how far they can go. The first is injuries, the Panthers have had a shocking injury record in 2014 and 2015 and although it wasn’t so bad last year they have no depth in their backline. If Moylan, Whare and Hiku join Josh Mansour on the injury list they could be in real trouble. The second is the young halves. The Panthers will be starting halves with a combined age of 40 this year, that’s the same combined age Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses had when they were the Tigers’ starting duo in 2015. Even though Nathan Cleary is the best young halfback I’ve ever seen, he and Te Maire Martin are bound to have some growing pains.
The biggest positional uncertainty is probably the front row/second row/interchange mix because there are so many options. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Peachey as a first choice centre either.
2016 Positional Minute Splits
Anthony Griffin had a strong preference towards running an 80 minute hooker, doing it on 21 occasions. This is probably bad news for Mitch Rein’s prospects. I don’t rate Rein very highly but it shocks me that he can’t get a gig that promises him regular first grade football.
The Panthers website only has 23 players with first grade profiles and only eight of them are backs (and one of them is the injured Josh Mansour) so the depth isn’t just thin it is non-existent. All of the back-up backs listed in the depth chart are included in the NSW Cup profiles so I guess they are second tier contracts. Don’t be surprised to see Peachey, Yeo and Wallace spend some time in the back line. If I was a Panthers fan this back line depth would terrify, especially when the Panthers have some history of injuries.
Average Fantasy Points Allowed Per Position
I was surprised by this. The Panthers leaked points everywhere except to wingers.
Key Fantasy Changes
Josh Mansour starts the season on the injured reserve allowing Dean Whare to shuffle back in at centre. The Panthers will also need to decide whether they go with TMM in a very young halves combo or stick with Bryce Cartwright.