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Penrith's two-year win rate among best in premiership history

Penrith's scintillating two-year run of regular-season form is set to go down as the most dominant in the NRL era and among the best in rugby league history.

The Panthers are on track to finish the 2021 season with a 21-3 record should they, as expected, beat a severely understrength Eels outfit on Friday night.

Their 90% win rate last year – cruelled by a draw in round three – has been backed up by an 87% record this season with a game remaining. 

Not even champion club Melbourne, who have been the benchmark for the competition for more than a decade, have recorded such a dominant two-year period in the Telstra Premiership.

Regardless of the result against the Eels, the Panthers will finish as one of the top 10 most dominant teams in back-to-back seasons in Australian rugby league history, joining great St George, South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs sides of yesteryear.

Adding to their success, Penrith's games played tally is also the highest of any of the champion sides, highlighting their impressive consistency across a long season. 

"It's been a really enjoyable two years," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said on Thursday.

"2019 was a difficult year, I came back to the club and we had to make some pretty big changes both with staff and players and I guess culturally, which we did.

"The last two years have been really good. We looked at the top teams and how consistent they are.

Eels v Panthers - Round 25

"We certainly aspire to be one of those teams and we're still very much in the beginning of that journey in that sense.

"But looking back we've only lost four regular-season games in two years, [won] the minor premiership last year and still a chance this year.

"The seven years before that it was either the Storm or Roosters so I feel like we're getting closer to being a consistent and reliable top team and looking forward to continuing that journey."

Many predicted the Panthers to struggle in backing up their 2020 efforts but Cleary's side has proved their title credentials in much tougher circumstances this year.

A 12-game winning streak to start the season immediately hosed down any thought of a grand final hangover after they fell short in last season's decider.

While Penrith wobbled with back-to-back losses during the State of Origin period, a defeat to Melbourne while understrength has been the only other small hiccup in their journey.

Not even key injuries to strike weapons Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, or the absence of James Fisher-Harris for a month, has been able to slow them down.

"Finals-wise we've been there pretty consistently for the last five to six years," Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo said.

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"2014 was my first year in grade so I got a [finals] taste then, that was the year the team went to the prelim.

"The year after that we were fighting for the wooden spoon so I've had to go through that.

"Going from there I've been fortunate to play in two finals nearly every year. It's obviously a lot nicer winning so often like we have the past two years and putting yourself in that top four spot.

"It's just pleasing to see the club grow. I remember for a couple of years there we were playing semi-finals pretty much three or four weeks before they actually started so this is a nice way to do it.

"It just goes to show how much work people in the club have done to get us to this point."

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Cleary has rightfully been at the forefront of praise for the club's turnaround after a disastrous 2019 season on and off the field, but Yeo said the foundations had been in place earlier.

"You look back at it, first it was Ivan and Gus, he has played a big part in that, then we had Anthony Griffin and Matty Cameron come back and take over with what Gus was doing.

"Then Ivan again… they've put such an emphasis on recruiting who they would think would be good but also internally making sure the development pathways have been outstanding.

"As a club we're really benefitting from that but there's obviously a lot of people that have played a role in that. It's been unreal to be a part of."

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards, who two years ago was battling for the fullback spot alongside former player Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, said the difficult times had been worth the recent success.

"We've had to wait a little bit, we had some pretty lean years and now everything is coming into fruition now," Edwards said.

"It's been outstanding. The quality of the coaching staff here have instilled really good systems that we've got going at the moment and just the culture we have.

"We've got a really good young squad that buy into everything that's put in front of them. They can take in a lot of information in about the games that come up.

"It's hard to put one thing on it [why it's all clicked], we've got a lot of people who have played footy together through the juniors and our grades have had a lot of success.

"I think that's having a flow-on effect. We're just really lucky at the moment."

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.