The Panthers came back to earth last Sunday against Cronulla with injuries finally catching up with Anthony Griffin’s side.
Inexperienced players like Christian Crichton struggled to get the little things right, while veterans like Dean Whare and Trent Merrin frustrated themselves into poor personal performances. Combined, it just wasn’t Penrith’s day.
But Griffin and his team will need to shake that defeat off quickly as the Panthers face the shortest possible turnaround in the NRL – going from Sunday in the Shire to taking on the Bulldogs in Friday Night Football at the foot of the Mountains.
There is every reason to fear Dean Pay’s Bulldogs.
That turnaround is critical – the Bulldogs played last Thursday night so have had a much smoother preparation for this one.
And of course there’s the fact that these two sides have already met this season, with Canterbury coming away with the competition points.
But even considering those two elements, I’m struggling to see how the Bulldogs get near the Panthers on Friday night.
Pay’s side couldn’t score a point against the Roosters last Thursday night despite a mountain of opportunities and have been far from impressive in the opening two months of the competition.
The Bulldogs aren’t really dominating any facets of the game and I can’t really pinpoint a particular area to be concerned about on Friday night.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re no chance. Penrith need to be a lot better than they were against Cronulla on Sunday and indeed there’s probably a few question marks over just how well Penrith have been performing given the quality of opposition they’ve faced in the opening seven rounds.
The next few weeks gives the Panthers the opportunity to really make a statement about the legitimacy of their claims for premiership glory in 2018.
Not surprisingly, Griffin has made no changes to the side for Friday night’s game. There’s no reason to suggest the side that took the field on Sunday can’t get the job done against the Bulldogs, even though the Panthers would really benefit from a second playmaker in the halves. Griffin will most likely persist with Tyrone Peachey as a stop-gap until Nathan Cleary returns in a few weeks, although Tyrone May will also put his hand up for a return as early as next week’s game against the Cowboys in Bathurst.
Canterbury would be silly not to target James Maloney. The way Penrith’s play is structured at the moment, if you shut down Maloney you essentially halt Penrith’s momentum. If Maloney is out of play, skipper Peter Wallace really needs to step up to ensure the side’s attack doesn’t break down.
As for Penrith’s game plan, they’ll try to keep it simple given the short preparation but their superior fitness should be part of the weaponry on Friday.
Keep the ball in play, tire the Bulldogs’ big men and try to get energy from defence.
In front of a big crowd at Panthers Stadium, I just can’t see Penrith dropping this one.
Tip: Panthers by 18.
Penrith and Canterbury play at Panthers Stadium on Friday, April 27 at 8pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.