Ivan Cleary and Geoff Toovey have plenty in common at the moment.
Both are desperate for victories, both have key playmakers missing from their side (including their first choice goal kickers) and both know the importance of this weekend’s clash at Pepper Stadium.
Cleary knows that a fourth straight defeat would shatter his young Penrith side’s confidence – he’s one to ensure his side learns from losses but right now he really, really needs a win.
Toovey, meanwhile, is just trying to keep his battered Manly outfit together as the club works through a bad injury toll and off-field dramas including the defection of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran to the Titans and Eels respectively.
Manly are still missing Jamie Lyon (groin) and Steve Matai (elbow) and both are heavy losses to a Sea Eagles side that rely on both of those men for points on a weekly basis.
Jamie Buhrer has been named to play despite suffering from concussion and will have to prove his fitness later in the week.
The Panthers will welcome back Sika Manu into the second row, and with Dean Whare suffering a hamstring injury, Jamal Idris’ career switch to the second row has been cut short after just one match – he’ll be back in the backline on Saturday evening.
Cleary named Apisai Koroisau at five-eighth when the teams were released on Tuesday but there’s speculation that the situation will change before kick-off.
Personally, I can’t see why Isaac John – a solid back-up in the halves and a proven first grader – was forced to play NSW Cup last weekend while the Panthers tried their fourth halves combination in as many matches.
Whether or not John squeezes his way back into the top side for Saturday night’s game will most likely not be known until the hours before kick-off.
The Panthers lacked urgency last week in the second half and allowed a better side to get on top of them, while at times star gazing at the multi-talented Johnathan Thurston and allowing themselves to be affected by video referee decisions not going their way.
Without Jamie Soward, the Panthers lack any clear direction on the field – it’s actually quite amazing how much the side misses him.
Those slick back-line plays just aren’t the same without Soward and while he does struggle in defence, his organisation skills are vital to Penrith’s ability to hold sides at bay.
The Cowboys tested Penrith’s left-side defence constantly last weekend – identifying that Idris wasn’t there and that youngster Waqa Blake would most likely be finding his feet. It was a smart game plan and Manly will also test Penrith’s edges – they’ll try to tempt Josh Mansour to rush in (as he’s been doing a fair bit since returning against the Roosters) and take advantage of the inexperience of Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Penrith have every chance to win this game on Saturday night and in truth are probably the better side on paper.
But yes, there is reason to be concerned. It’s not panic stations yet – far from it – but the Panthers really do need a win to get things back on track.
Right now, I’m not totally sure they have the confidence to pull it off. But tip Manly? Nah, I just can’t do it.
Tip: Panthers by 2
– Troy Dodds