BOOKMAKERS have Penrith joint premiership favourites with Melbourne, and experts think the Panthers are the team to beat this year.
But with all the hype surrounding his team heading into this week’s NRL kick-off, Anthony Griffin has delivered a blunt message about the reality of pre-season predictions.
“This time last year we’d played off for the wooden spoon the year before, and everyone was tipping Brisbane and Cowboys to play in the grand final again,” Griffin said.
“None of those things happened. So I don’t get caught up in that. We don’t like talking about expectation. From our end I think all the excitement is coming from the outside.”
But in a wideranging interview with The Daily Telegraph, Griffin was more than open on several of contentious issues facing his team.
WALLACE OR REIN?
Griffin didn’t even attempt to play mind games as to who has their hands on the No. 9 jumper ahead of Saturday’s showdown with St George Illawarra.
While Mitch Rein has a point to prove against his former club, the starting hooking spot is Peter Wallace’s to lose.
“Peter obviously did a great job there last year,” Griffin said.
“Mitch was without a club late in the year, I think it was October we actually gave him an opportunity.
“He has come into the club and trained very hard. He is a real good addition to our squad but Pete is an important part of our team, the way we are developing.
“So Mitch is playing a role there but at the moment I think Pete is doing a good job.”
NRL’S YOUNGEST HALVES
You can’t question their talent, but experience matters. Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin are the competition’s least-experienced playmaking partnership.
Cleary has only played 15 top-grade games, while Martin had six before he was struck down with injury early last season. Throw in they have never played together, except in a recent trial against Parramatta.
“They have trained well but I can’t give you any answers (as to how they will go) because I don’t know myself,’ Griffin said.
“I have to find out in the next week or two.”
Griffin said Cleary showed last year he has the ability and toughness, now he needs time.
“In the end the only way you get experience is to get out there and play,” Griffin said.
“He has handled that first part of his first-grade journey. It will just be a matter of time for him, sticking to the things he did well last year.
“Being strong in defence and not taking too many risks with the ball.”
Martin made his return from injury last year in NSW Cup, before being part of New Zealand’s Four Nations campaign where he played 10 minutes against Scotland.
“He is going well,” Griffin said. “He had a bit of time in the halves with Nathan against Parramatta so that will help him going into round one.
“He went on that tour obviously so he didn’t get back until after Christmas to training. There is a lot to work on.”
CENTRE OF CONTENTION
A big pre-season debate has been about how Griffin will fit Tyrone Peachey, Waqa Blake, Dean Whare and Peta Hiku into a starting team. But star wingersDallin Watene-Zelezniak and Josh Mansour are already sidelined with knee injuries.
“In the middle of last year when we lost Whare and Hiku everyone was saying we had no depth,” Griffin said.
“The reason we have got a little bit now is because Tyrone Peachey and Waqa Blake appointed themselves at the back end of last year. And we need to be patient with (Whare and Haiku).
“They are both coming off long-term injuries. They both finished the pre-season playing wing in the trial which they can both do.”
Asked if Peachey’s future was as a utility, Griffin said: “He is playing well in the centres. He was very good in the last trial against Parramatta. He finished the year there and he has done nothing wrong.
“I mean, I wouldn’t know where he is going to be at the back end of the year. That is the beauty about Peach.”
MOYLAN’S THE MAN
While the Panthers are the team to beat, Matt Moylan is also the top pick to take out the Dally M Medal.
Griffin said his skipper had a great season last year for his club and his state, but touring with the Kangaroos was the added bonus to help take Moylan to the next level.
“I thought he came out of Origin for his first year in a really good frame of mind,” Griffin said. “He did a real good job late in the year for us.
“Obviously the tour would have been a great boost to his confidence. He is training well. He is a good boy. What else can I say?”