If you were to pick a team that has exceeded expectations this year it would have to be the Penrith Panthers.
I always thought they would make the eight, but not top four.
Phil Gould came to the club with a five-year plan, but it looks like the Panthers have got there a year early.
Penrith has just knocked off the reigning premiers and is one win away from making its first Grand Final since winning the title in 2003.
While they would never say it, I think the Panthers’ coaching staff would be surprised by the success of their team this year.
A combination of factors have gone into the making Penrith a top-four side. Newly-crowned Penrith Player of the Year Matt Moylan is one of the most important of those factors.
Moylan could have fallen by the wayside, but stuck at it and is now being touted as the next Darren Lockyer. Let’s have a look at the road that Moylan has taken to get to this point.
Moylan played 43 games from in the National Youth Competition for Penrith. He bagged 15 tries and kicked 39 goals.
Those stats aren’t too bad, but nowadays you need more from your fullback.
The then 20-year-old graduated as part of the 2011 NYC class. The likes of current NRL stars Dane Gagai, Konrad Hurrell and Tim Lafai were all included in the NYC Team of the Year and made their NRL debuts in 2011 or 2012. Moylan did not.
Following his NYC grounding, Penrith’s management didn’t see him at NRL standard yet, so Moylan plied his trade in the NSW Cup with Windsor.
The likes of Lachlan Coote, Wes Naqaima and Dean Whare were all in front of him in the fullback pecking order.
Moylan bided his time with the Wolves until he received his top-grade chance in Round 7 of 2013 following a string of injuries to the Panthers’ backline contingent.
The debutant No.1 grabbed his opportunity by the scruff of the neck and put in a man-of-the-match performance in a big win over Parramatta, including two try assists.
Moylan went on to play 13 games in his first year of NRL football and was named Penrith’s Rookie of the Year, as well as being shortlisted by the Rugby League Players Association for their rookie gong.
Moylan would have played more first grade, but was sidelined by the NRL due to second-tier salary cap issues.
The confident youngster’s stellar year led to Penrith opting to keep him on to play fullback in 2014 and cutting ties with Lachlan Coote.
Plenty of NRL players have been known to struggle to back up an impressive first year in the NRL; take Daniel Mortimer as a recent example.
The ‘dreaded second-year syndrome’ has not plagued Moylan in 2014 as he went from strength to strength throughout the season.
Moylan has grown into an incredible footballer with a wonderful touch, along with a knack to be in the right place at the right time.
In a year where he made his representative debut for City Origin, he has now been tipped for higher rep honours. He also played all 24 regular-season games for Penrith this year. In the process he scored eight tries, made 12 line breaks, and produced 14 try assists and 16 line-break assists.
The most telling statistic, though, is the three field goals he kicked this year, two of which won his team the game. Moylan also slotted a memorable sideline conversion after the siren to sink Canterbury early in the season.
Being able to come up with these crunch playhs not only shows his coolness under pressure, but most importantly that his teammates entrust the side’s result on him.
Going from an NRL rookie to a bolter for the Kangaroos squad in under a year shows that Matt Moylan has that something special.
The only thing that could make it any better for this kid would be winning the Grand Final come October.
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