Panthers enter the twilight zone with early kick-off to match against Knights

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The Panthers celebrate a try against the Roosters last week. Photo: Melinda Jane

In his post-match press conference last week, Anthony Griffin made the very strong point that despite the loss to the Roosters on the scoreboard, he felt his side performed better than the week before against the Tigers.

That is all any coach can ask for in the early part of the season – an improved performance week after week, until things really click into gear.

And while the manner in which Penrith lost last Saturday night has left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone in the Panthers family – from the coach down to the fans – there is no question that the side produced a performance worthy of a premiership contender.

There were mistakes, missed opportunities and flashes of inexperience, but all in all, Griffin should be pleased with where his side is sitting.

Panthers coach Anthony Griffin was all smiles despite last weekend’s loss. Photo: Melinda Jane

The Panthers have a real opportunity to consolidate their status as a 2017 powerhouse when they take on Newcastle at Pepper Stadium tonight.

In the new dreaded 6pm Friday timeslot, Penrith have an opportunity to really show their class against a Knights side that while brave in the past fortnight, is well behind Penrith in terms of development and ability.

It is these early season games against sides like Newcastle, who most expect to struggle this season, where the Panthers can really build their confidence.

As we saw against the Tigers in Round 2, when the confidence is high, the Panthers can turn a match into an 80 minute highlights reel.

It is this confidence that the team’s inexperienced halves combination of Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary desperately need. At times against the Roosters last week, you could tell that while they were trying their hearts out, they didn’t quite have the experience to lead each and every set in the direction it should have gone. That is not unexpected and will come with time.

But a strong performance and a big win tonight will see Martin and Cleary in a good frame of mind to take on the daunting task of battling Melbourne at AAMI Park next week, and the challenges that lay ahead for the rest of the season.

In short, the Panthers are learning very different things based on the quality of opponent they are facing at the moment. Each lesson is important, and each garners a different result the following week and forms another piece of the Martin / Cleary puzzle that will eventually lead the club into periods of long-term success.

Waqa Blake scores a sensational try earlier this year. Photo: NRL Photos

I’m tipping a big game from Trent Merrin. After a sluggish start to the year, he improved significantly against the Tigers and last week. He was on the field for 76 minutes, running 154 metres and making 44 tackles (without a miss!).

He’s gotten better every week and is on the brink of a truly outstanding performance.

Trent Merrin in action. Photo: Jeff Jambert / Penrith Panthers

While tipping Penrith by a big margin may be dangerous territory given what happened back in the opening round of the season against St George-Illawarra, I’m confident that the Panthers will win this game comfortably and perhaps have it sewn up by half-time.

Right across the park, the Panthers simply have too much firepower to be losing a game like this.

Tip: Panthers by 28

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