There isn’t a seat at the NRL table that doesn’t come hot with the expectation of success, but perhaps none more so than the premiership favourites.
On the eve of the anticipated 2017 season, it’s a spotlight Penrith share with Melbourne.
The mountain men sit alongside the perennial heavyweights at the top of bookmakers’ lists heading into round one, but to the Panthers it’s water off a duck’s back.
Coach Anthony Griffin remembers how the Panthers weren’t on anyone’s radar coming out of last summer, but the club had its own definition for a winning campaign.
“To me there’s two different types of expectations, external ones and internal ones. And our internal ones haven’t changed from last year,” coach Anthony Griffin told AAP.
“Expectations externally last year were based off a (near) wooden spoon the year before. We’re trying to keep building the club to be as strong a side as we can.”
By October his side was one of the strongest in the game, falling two matches short of a fairytale grand final on the back of an attacking style that captured the imagination of the league.
When this season starts they will also boast incumbent NSW State of Origin and premiership-winning prop James Tamou, as well as the return of former Kiwi internationals Dean Whare and Peta Hiku.
“We’ve got an environment that’s building around those expectations. How many wins and losses that turns into over the year, that’s something that’ll take care of itself,” Griffin said.
Skipper and fullback Matt Moylan will once again be the Panthers’ spearhead, pulling the strings on a game plan that centres on his starts and finishes to a set.
Tamou joins Trent Merrin and hooker Peter Wallace as leaders of a capable forward pack that boasts attacking wildcards in Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey.
The key could be young halves Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary, who have 21 NRL games combined and will be relied upon to guide the team deep into the finals.
Together, it’s a recipe that has everyone expecting success in Sydney’s west.
“External expectations never quite match up with your own. I don’t really worry about them. The important thing is what our internal expectations are,” Griffin said.
“I’m happy with the way our guys are building.”
Premierships: 2 – 1991, 2003
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2016 – 6th, 2015 – 11th, 2014 – 4th
Coach: Anthony Griffin
Captain: Matt Moylan
Gains: Tim Browne (Canterbury), Jed Cartwright (Gold Coast), Samisoni Langi (Sydney Roosters), Michael Oldfield (South Sydney), Mitch Rein (St George Illawarra), James Tamou (North Queensland).
Losses: Zak Hardaker (Castleford), George Jennings, Suaia Matagi, Will Smith (Parramatta), Robert Jennings (South Sydney), Jeremy Latimore (Cronulla), Chris Smith (Sydney Roosters).
Strengths: Play an attacking style that can tear any defence to shreds and boast a roster that includes 10 current or former Australian, New Zealand and State of Origin stars.
Weaknesses: First-choice halves Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary have just 21 NRL games between them.
Best team: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare, Peta Hiku, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Te Maire Martin, Nathan Cleary, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Peter Wallace, James Tamou, Bryce Cartwright, Isaah Yeo, Trent Merrin. Bench: Tyrone Peachey, Leilani Latu, James Fisher-Harris, Sitaleki Akauola.
Predicted finish: 3rd