The Panthers Holden Cup side kick off their finals campaign as they face St George Illawarra Dragons in a Qualifying Final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
David Tangata-Toa shone in his debut season as a coach in the NYC competition, continuing the legacy that the Panthers have forged in Holden Cup, by steering his side to second place on the ladder.
Tangata-Toa's leadership saw a number of his young guns impress enough to earn representative honours and accolades.
Co-captains Reed Izzard and Wayde Egan were named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year, while Liam Martin earned a permanent call up to the Panthers Intrust Super Premiership NSW side where he became a mainstay in their destructive forward park.
Damaging prop Stefano Hala was recognised for his strong form with selection in the New South Wales and Junior Kanagroos sides where he would taste success on both occasions. His NSW side defeated teammate Tom Skinner’s Queensland.
Free-scoring winger Daniel Brown and exciting fullback Caleb Aekins both earned selection in the Wales World Cup squad to take place later this year.
The culmination of talent at Tangata-Toa's disposal saw the Panthers record the second best defence and post over 700 points during the regular season, whilst continuing to develop the next generation of Panthers to graduate in to the NRL.
This weekend’s opponents were also impressive throughout the year, led by halfback Tristan Sailor and fullback Zac Lomax. Tristan, son of Wendell Sailor, dazzled the competition with his speed and creativity scoring 15 tries and laying off 14 assists, while Lomax finished as the team’s top scorer with 180 points.
The Panthers will be keen on overturning their record against the Dragons after falling to defeat on both occasions they met this season.
The Panthers nearly completed a stunning turnaround in the opening round of the season when they clawed their way back from 18-0 down at half-time but were ultimately downed 18-16.
The return fixture in Round 25 was a blow-out in favour of the Dragons as they flew out of the blocks to take a 28-6 lead in to the break and eventually race away with a comfortable 40-10 win. Daine Laurie was impressive as he scored a double but the Dragons proved too strong thanks to Steven Marsters’ hat-trick.