South Sydney come to Pepper Stadium this Friday night in an effort to keep their season alive against a Panthers side that itself is desperate to string wins together to consolidate a spot in the top eight.
The Panthers enjoyed a bye last weekend after their miracle come-from-behind victory against Manly the week before, while Souths were nothing short of disappointing against Parramatta last Friday night.
The Rabbitohs are a shadow of the side that won the competition in 2014 and head into this weekend’s game sitting in 13th spot on the ladder, with finals football looking more and more unlikely.
Souths also have an array of injuries and judiciary issues to worry about, which is proving a major disruption to the side in an already difficult Origin period.
Talking of Origin, the outcome of this game may well depend on if the players who took to the field on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium back-up for their respective clubs on Friday.
For the Panthers, the inclusion of Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour will be vital while Souths will be hoping Queensland centre Greg Inglis lines up in the red and green – despite his questionable form this season they certainly missed his spark against the Eels last weekend.
Of course, the biggest question mark hangs over Blues halfback Adam Reynolds – the Rabbitohs will be desperate for him to back-up and will feel that his kicking game will give them a big chance against the Panthers, who often find it hard to get out of their own half when dominated by an opposition.
The kicking game is what concerns me most about Penrith’s chances on Friday night.
With Jamie Soward still missing, the Panthers will again rely on youngster Nathan Cleary and Peter Wallace, who celebrates his 200th first grade game, to guide them around the park and put the side in a winning position.
Both are up to the job, but if Reynolds does play there’s no doubt that he has their measure.
This clash brings one word to mind: desperation. And while the Rabbitohs are desperate to keep their season alive, the Panthers should be even more desperate to ensure they are not the competition’s biggest under-achievers this year.
As we head into round 15 of the competition, there is no longer room for excuses. The time for Penrith to live up to the pre-season expectations is now.
In front of what should be a big home crowd, on the game’s biggest stage (Friday night football), it’s time for the Panthers to silence the non-believers.
Even without Soward, who remains stuck in reserve grade, and forward Sam McKendry, who serves the final week of his suspension this round, the Panthers clearly have the better side on paper this weekend, and with the Rabbitohs struggling have a big chance to put a big score on their opponents.
Some already believe 2016 has passed the Panthers by, but the side is well positioned to play finals football – perhaps it’s time the players themselves believed it.
Tip: Panthers by 8
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.