The 2020 regular season could not have gone much better for Penrith, who climbed from a ninth-place finish the previous year all the way to the minor premiership.
They had just one loss and a draw in 20 rounds, were unbeaten at home and finished with the best defensive record in the competition.
And they did it with a young side full of rising stars who can still improve in the years to come. Despite their grand final defeat, things are looking up at the foot of the mountains.
Home & Away record
A six-point loss to rivals Parramatta and a 14-14 draw with Newcastle (while star halfback Nathan Cleary was on the sidelines) were the only blots on the record book during the 20-match regular season.
A relative lack of travel – with 16 of their 20 games taking place in Penrith or Sydney – didn't hurt, but they also adapted quickly to the new six-again era of the NRL with a round six victory over eventual premiers Melbourne starting a sensational 17-game winning streak until the two teams met again in the grand final.
Run metres differential
The Panthers dominated most statistics this season, and none more so than the battle for territory with no team making more metres or conceding fewer across the regular season. That meant they made a whopping 396 metres more than their opponents on average every game, with plenty of opportunities to attack from within striking distance of the tryline and relatively few for rival teams.
Penrith got great numbers from their back three Dylan Edwards (195 metres per game), Josh Mansour (182m) and Brian To'o (174) as well as middle forwards James Fisher-Harris (174m), Isaah Yeo (140m) and James Tamou (139m).
Try scoring – game time
A quiet start to second halves of games, scoring just seven tries between half-time and the 50-minute mark, is the only blemish on an otherwise consistent try-scoring record for the Panthers. With the bulk of their tries coming in the first half Penrith were in a dominant position early in most matches and almost always rode that advantage home to victory.
Tries conceded – game time
Even more impressive than racking up 27 tries in the opening 20 minutes of matches is Penrith's defensive record – holding opponents to just seven tries in that period. In a year when the new, faster brand of footy could tire teams out if they were on the back foot early on, the Panthers were the best starters in the league.
Tries scored/conceded from six-agains
Penrith actually conceded a lot of repeat sets in the early rounds of the six-again rule, with the most ruck infringements in the league through to the end of July. From round 12, however, they made a significant improvement, giving away the fifth-fewest repeat sets in the competition.
The result is their record in this area isn't as dominant as others, but with the NRL's best defence they still managed to score more tries from six-agains than they conceded.
Metres gained from offloads
Despite dominating possession more than any other team and piling on plenty of points, Penrith preferred holding onto the ball rather than pushing passes with the fourth-fewest offloads in the competition in the regular season.
The most prolific source of second-phase play at the Panthers was Viliame Kikau, with 160 metres gained from his 24 offloads across the season, while backline trio Jarome Luai, Josh Mansour and Stephen Crichton also impressed along with the always busy James Fisher-Harris.
In Nathan Cleary, the Panthers have one of the league's elite sharpshooters and he ranked in the top four for kicking percentage this season, finishing second behind only Adam Reynolds in total points scored at the end of the year. He also led the league in field goals with four – two clear of the next best, Luke Keary.
This is one of the real advantages the Panthers enjoyed in a season where injuries and COVID-19 took a significant toll on some other clubs. Ivan Cleary's squad managed to stay fairly stable throughout the year, with few significant injuries and key players on the park for the majority of the season.
There were exceptions – Nathan Cleary was stood down for two matches early in the year over a social distancing breach – but for the most part the Penrith side stayed fairly healthy, and even those players who were brought into the side to cover injuries generally impressed.
Tries from kicks
Again Nathan Cleary's right boot came in handy here but so too did the playmaking skills of Jarome Luai, with both Panthers halves providing eight try assists from kicks to rank equal second in the league (behind Cronulla's Shaun Johnson).
The rise of Luai was a key factor in Penrith's success this season, with opposing teams forced to contend with (at least) two genuine points of attack whenever the Panthers got within striking distance.
The split of possession in rugby league is usually close to 50/50, and across the course of a season even the best teams tend to enjoy only slightly more than 50 per cent of possession. The premiership-winning Storm finished with 51.5 per cent, for example, with 14 of the 16 clubs somewhere between the Storm's mark and 48.3 per cent.
The two outliers were wooden spooners Brisbane – with only 45.9 per cent – and the Panthers, who were the most dominant club with 54.7 per cent.
It's a statistic that both reflects and helps explain their dominance on the scoreboard. Teams that score a lot of tries and receive the resulting kick-offs can therefore soak up more possession, but by the same token the ability to not give away possession through errors and penalties means you get more chances to score tries.
Not since the Cowboys in 2017 has a team had as much of the ball as Penrith did this year, and it's a trend they'll be keen to continue in 2021.
2020 Form Guide
|1||Roosters||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 20-14|
|2||Dragons||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Won 28-32|
|3||Knights||Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney||Draw 14-14|
|4||Warriors||Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney||Won 26-0|
|5||Eels||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 16-10|
|6||Storm||Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney||Won 21-14|
|7||Rabbitohs||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Won 20-12|
|8||Wests Tigers||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 12-19|
|9||Sharks||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Won 38-12|
|10||Cowboys||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 22-10|
|11||Titans||Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast||Won 14-22|
|12||Sea Eagles||Lottoland, Sydney||Won 12-42|
|13||Raiders||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 28-12|
|14||Warriors||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Won 12-18|
|15||Sharks||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 38-12|
|16||Wests Tigers||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 30-6|
|17||Broncos||Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane||Won 12-25|
|18||Eels||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 20-2|
|19||Cowboys||Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville||Won 12-32|
|20||Bulldogs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Won 0-42|
|Finals Week 1||Roosters||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Won 29-28|
|Finals Week 3||Rabbitohs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Won 20-16|
|Grand Final||Storm||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Lost 20-26|