The Penrith Panthers 2022 season will go down as one of, if not the greatest season in history after they won The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup, SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and NRL Grand Finals, while adding the NRL State Championship for good measure.
After they dominated the 2021 NSW Cup season before it was cancelled due to COVID-19, the Panthers largely kept the same squad in 2022 and with their NRL side all but locked in, they were primed for a shot at this year’s title.
The Mountain Men picked up where they left off, winning 10 of their first 11 games including a 52-6 win over the Dragons, a 26-12 win over eventual Minor Premiers the Jets and a 30-16 win over would-be Grand Finalists the Bulldogs.
With Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Isaah Yeo, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin and Api Koroisau all playing for the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues in 2022, the Origin period proved difficult for the Panthers NSW Cup squad. From Round 12-14 the Panthers lost three straight games to the Knights, Dragons and Raiders before winning their next three. A surprise loss to the Magpies then put their season record at 12 wins and five losses.
The Panthers historic season culminated in an impressive 29-22 Grand Final victory over the Bulldogs.
CommBank Stadium was flooded with the Panthers faithful, and they had themselves a day out, witnessing two thrilling Grand Final wins in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg Cup after their NRL side booked a spot in the Grand Final the night before.
It was a perfect start for the Panthers who crossed the white line first through Sunia Turuva, who capitalised on a beautiful cut out ball from outgoing halfback Sean O’Sullivan.
NSWRL TV Highlights | NSW Cup Grand Final
The Panthers ran in back-to-back tries through Kurt Falls and Jack Cole until the Bulldogs hit back through Declan Casey, who dived on a perfectly placed Khaled Rajab chip kick to put his side back into the contest.
Soon after, Okunbor scored his second of the afternoon but it was Player of the Match Soni Luke who started to take over, darting over from close range to give the Panthers some breathing room at 23-16.
NSW Cup Fullback of the Year Sunia Turuva came up big when his side needed it most. With the Bulldogs down by one and on the attack, Turuva secured a seven-tackle set, racing away upfield beating four defenders to start their set on halfway.
Just a few tackles later, Turuva was the beneficiary of an Isaiah Iongi cut-out pass that saw him plant the ball down in the right-hand corner, securing a hard-fought 29-22 Grand Final victory for the Panthers.
Simply the Best
A team boasting names such as J’Maine Hopgood, Matt Eisenhuth, Turuva, Tom Jenkins, Sean O’Sullivan and Eddie Blacker are going to be tough to beat but one man stood above the rest in 2022 and that is their dummy half Soni Luke.
Luke, who was named NSW Cup Hooker of the Year, had an outstanding 2022 season that not only included a contract extension, a Grand Final win, Player-of-the-Match honours and a State Championship, but an NRL debut.
J'maine Hopgood post-match | NSW Cup Grand Final
Luke became one of the real success stories in 2022 after plying his trade in the NSW Cup competition for the past five years. A talented Panthers junior, Luke won the NYC Grand Final with the club in 2015 and was named Man of the Match for his efforts.
Since then, Luke’s career has been plagued by injuries and limited playing time due to COVID-19 but he had the opportunity to showcase his talent in 2022 and took it with both hands.
Luke finished the year with 19 games, five tries, 20 try assists, 22 linebreak assists, seven forced dropouts, 34.8 tackles per game and 75 running metres per game. On top of that, he also featured in four NRL games for the Panthers.
With Api Koroisau moving to the Tigers, Luke will now have the 2023 NRL pre-season to impress coach Ivan Cleary and secure himself a regular first grade spot. Over the past few years Cleary has shown a tendency to play two hookers and with Luke having a similar playing style to Koroisau, he could find himself playing regular first grade alongside Mitch Kenny in 2023.
Five Panthers players featured in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup Team of the Year including Luke, Turuva and Tom Jenkins in the centres, Lindsay Smith at prop and captain J’Maine Hopgood at lock.
O'Sullivan post-match | NSW Cup Grand Final
By the numbers
The Panthers were a statistical juggernaut in 2022, finishing the year leading several categories including points (744), tries (131), goals (108), set completion (78%), kick return metres (4,703), dummy half runs (289), try assists, (109) and tackles (7,873).
The Panthers also conceded the least amount of points in the regular season with 352 although they missed the third most tackles with 738. Discipline will also be an area of focus for Peter Wallace and his coaching staff after the team conceded the most penalties with 171 and made the fourth most errors with 239.