The real Penrith Panthers have finally stood up – and what a time to do it.
All year we’ve seen glimpses of the Panthers we expected to see in 2017, but it took until week one of the Finals to produce the kind of performance that really instilled premiership belief. Two wins from a Grand Final and the reward for winning this weekend is a daunting trip to Melbourne to face the Storm, but in this great game of ours, anything can happen.
It was Penrith’s defence in the opening 20 minutes that really won them the game last weekend. They managed to stun the Sea Eagles with an early onslaught they never really recovered from, and while Penrith’s attack was a little clunky at times it was, in the end, a high quality performance from Anthony Griffin’s men.
A similar game plan would be worthy against the Broncos on Friday night – win the early stages and you go a long way to winning the contest.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett admitted his side was poor against the Roosters last week, even though they somehow managed to be in the lead with just a handful of minutes remaining. The super coach made some rather bizarre selection calls for the Roosters game and the scary thing is that Bennett doesn’t get it wrong all too often. With his side’s season on the line and a huge home crowd expected at Suncorp Stadium, the old master will surely have something up his sleeve.
That something could be captain Darius Boyd, who earlier this week was rated a 50/50 chance of returning from a hamstring injury for the elimination contest.
I really enjoyed seeing Dylan Edwards back in the Penrith team last week – he just adds something at fullback that gives you confidence every time a ball rockets into the air, and to play so well so quickly after a nasty knee injury made his return even better.
Dean Whare back at centre really strengthened that right side defence – between them Whare and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak only missed one tackle last week, while the same side of the field leaked four the previous week. Waqa Blake is a great player but his injury has allowed Griffin to really tighten up that side of the field that has been exploited a few too many times this season.
Teams had pointed to Penrith’s right side defence has a vulnerability but with that now erased, the Panthers look stronger across the park.
There’s no Matt Moylan for this game and while his spark would have added something in attack, there’s no doubt Tyrone May, Nathan Cleary and a confident Bryce Cartwright can do the job.
On their best day, I think Brisbane could easily beat the Panthers in this one. But the Broncos’ form over the last month has been far from impressive – a loss to the Roosters last week, an unconvincing win over the Cowboys in round 26, a 52-34 thumping at the hands of the Eels the week before and a win over the Dragons that certainly didn’t set the world on fire.
Penrith showed what they can do when it all clicks last week. If it clicks again, they’ll be heading to Melbourne with the big dance in sight.
Tip: Panthers by 6.
Penrith and Brisbane play on Friday, September 15 at 7.55pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.