Panthers ready for cross-Tasman showdown

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Mitch Rein in action last weekend. Photo: Melinda Jane

Postpone the holiday plans!

The Panthers revived their Finals hopes last weekend with an unconvincing but important win over the high flying Manly Sea Eagles, maintaining ninth spot on the ladder and staying within reach of the eighth placed Eels.

Penrith now head across the Tasman to take on a Warriors side that sit just behind them on the ladder and could grab ninth place with a victory on Friday evening.

The ladder positions make this a particularly important game for the Panthers especially with Parramatta enjoying a bye this weekend and opening up a six point gap on the loser of the Mount Smart Stadium showdown.

Penrith got rid of one annoying stat last weekend when they finally defeated a top eight team and they’ll need to hurdle another to beat the Warriors – winning outside of NSW. Trips to Melbourne, Brisbane and Townsville this season have all resulted in a rather quiet plane trip home.

Trent Merrin in action against Manly. Photo: Melinda Jane

The Panthers may have broken a two match losing run and secured the much needed competition points last Saturday against Manly but the side’s attacking options still left plenty to be desired. Matt Moylan and Nathan Cleary are both trying their butts off but just aren’t quite clicking or reading each other as we’d hope at this stage of the season.
To make matters worse I understand Moylan has a slight hamstring issue that has hampered his preparation somewhat this week.

The good news is that the side’s forwards are really starting to stand up with James Tamou and Trent Merrin in particular having strong games last weekend while Isaah Yeo continues to emerge as a potential dark horse for the Merv Cartwright Medal – he’s been extremely busy in almost every match this season.

Even the most carefree of gamblers would find it hard to lay a bet on this match – it features two of the competition’s most inconsistent teams, both capable of producing a dynamite performance. Unfortunately both are also just as likely to turn in a stinker. In short, it’s a tipster’s nightmare and you wouldn’t want either of these two sides playing for your life.

My big fear is that the Warriors jump out to an early 12 or 18 point lead – as they have been known to do this year – and the Panthers just don’t have the attacking flair to claw back the margin as other sides have done at various points of the season. Penrith need to stay with the Warriors during the first half as much as they can, even going try for try if needed. If the margin gets out by two or more tries I’d have real fears that Penrith don’t have what it takes to come back (although the corresponding game earlier this year would suggest otherwise!).

The Panthers celebrate their win over the Warriors earlier this year. Photo: Melinda Jane

I don’t tip the Warriors no matter what the circumstance – most of the time it pays off – but even with that rule in play I think the Panthers may just have a little too much for them this weekend. The home side will be rested after a bye but the Panthers have their confidence back after that win against Manly and spirits seemed pretty high in the camp this week. I’d expect a roller coaster ride over the 80 minutes but I think Penrith will be keeping the top eight on notice.

Tip: Panthers by 6.

The Panthers and Warriors play at Mt Smart Stadium from 6pm on Friday, July 14.

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