Panthers walk a Finals tightrope

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Tyrone Peachey. Photo: Megan Dunn

Flights to the Goldie for less than $100. Los Angeles for only $996. A Fiji package deal that will blow your mind.

These are just some of the Flight Centre offers the Panthers may be interested in booking this September.

They won’t be doing anything else, that’s (almost) for sure.

Maybe I’ll have egg on my face come Finals time but after last week’s 42-14 capitulation to Souths at ANZ Stadium, I’m struggling to see the Panthers winning the required six or seven games that would have them playing in the post-season.

If they haven’t found their groove by Round 17, it’s unlikely it’ll be found in the next nine weeks. And the chances of playing Finals footy could well evaporate in the next fortnight with tough games against Manly and the Warriors on the agenda.

On the Triple M coverage last weekend, Ryan Girdler called Penrith’s performance “unproductive” – a good summation of where the side is at right now. They didn’t appear interested in wrestling back momentum once it had been lost mid-way through the first half, and were completely out-enthused and out-played by a side that has been poor for most of the year.

Manly played in tough conditions over in Perth last weekend and there’s no doubt their preparation for this game would have been impacted by such a long road trip, but Penrith will need more than that on their side to beat the third placed team this weekend.

Tough road ahead: Halfback Nathan Cleary after Sunday’s loss to Souths. Photo: Megan Dunn

Down 16-0 against the Warriors, the Sea Eagles found the grit and determination that Penrith lack to eventually wrestle control of the game and collect the two competition points.

The Sea Eagles have developed a killer attitude under Trent Barrett this year and are starting to really hit their straps at the right time of the season, and while their forwards have been impressive enough it’s their backs that have really been doing the hard yards and shining through in the stats. Tom Trbojevic and Dylan Walker in particular should be on coach Anthony Griffin’s whiteboard this week.

With Josh Mansour being found out by the high ball twice in the last fortnight, you can expect Daly Cherry-Evans to target his wing with a few big bombs on Saturday night.
Cherry-Evans is surely in line for a big game given he has a point to prove to Queensland selectors after being left out of the Origin decider.

Where to now? Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Photo: Megan Dunn

Manly are certain to have a good crack at Penrith’s right-side defence too given how easily it seemed to open up against the Rabbitohs.

Penrith were dealt some bad news earlier this week with Dean Whare suffering a broken jaw, but Tyrone Peachey comes into his centre spot and the energetic utility has been desperate for more game time, so the pieces fit together well.

James Fisher-Harris also looks set to return via the bench.

Penrith need to win this more than Manly, but I’m not convinced the Panthers are playing anywhere near well enough at the moment to snag a victory, even if the Sea Eagles are a little off their game.

Last Sunday’s loss to Souths would have been extremely confidence-sapping. How Penrith respond will be telling.

Tip: Sea Eagles by 10.

The Panthers and Sea Eagles play at Pepper Stadium on Saturday, July 8 at 5.30pm.

Matt Moylan. Photo: Megan Dunn
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