They were 5th in 2018 though, and well entrenched inside the Top 4 when Gus sacked the coach.I still find the rise of the Panthers to be inexplicable. Look at this team list from 2019 that lost to the Cowboys who came 14th (they finished 10th themselves).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 INTERCHANGE 15 16 17 18
The core of their current side is mostly there. Edwards, Crichton, To’o, Cleary, Fisher-Harris, Kikau, Martin, Yeo. They even had RCG on the bench! Whatever they did in the off season before 2020 is some kind of voodoo transformation.
They had some off field drama I recall and struggled in 2019.
They've hardly lost a game in 3 seasons. When they've been at full strength, half their losses have probably been to us.
There are some similarities on why that squad was losing back then and why the Cowboys were ordinary last year. Those guys at the Panthers still aren't that old.
Edit - Actually they've lost 5 games at or near full strength in 3 seasons. 3 times to us, once in the GF to Storm and once in first week of Finals last year. We're the only team to beat them at near full strength in a regular season game.
It's an astonishing record to be honest. For both them and us.