The path to glory was never meant to be easy.
After riding high for the first half of the season, the Panthers have hit a significant form slump with disappointing losses to the Roosters and Sea Eagles in consecutive games placing Anthony Griffin’s side in a precarious position.
The Panthers were lifeless against Manly last Saturday afternoon. The fact that replacement forward Jack Hetherington ended up with the ball on the last tackle on three separate occasions just typified Penrith’s poor execution throughout what was a dour and boring contest.
Things don’t get any easier this Friday night with Penrith to face the New Zealand Warriors without Nathan Cleary, James Maloney or Tyrone Peachey due to Origin commitments. When you throw in Dylan Edwards’ season-ending injury and Peter Wallace’s retirement, the Panthers will face the Warriors with a completely makeshift spine.
It is an enormous task but despite the difficulty of what faces Penrith with the inexperienced Tyrone May and Jarome Luai in the halves, the side simply has to find a way to win. The Dragons, Rabbitohs and Storm – Penrith’s top four colleagues – all grabbed the two competition points last weekend despite poor performances. They found a way, Penrith didn’t.
May and Luai are certainly not poor players and in fact May showed plenty to be excited about in first grade last season.
Should the Warriors beat the Panthers, Griffin’s side will slip out of the top four and may find it very difficult to fight their way back in with tough games against the Sharks and Broncos to come.
The Warriors had a strong start to the season but have been inconsistent through this middle period, and would be disappointed to not have closed out the game against Cronulla last Friday night.
Across the park, there is little question the Warriors on their best day should be winning this contest. With the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Solomone Kata in the backline, Blake Green and Shaun Johnson in the halves and the hard-to-contain Issac Luke at hooker, the Warriors have flair and flight all over the park.
The patched-up Panthers are really doing it tough at the moment. Players who should have only played a couple of first grade games this season are being forced to play much more than that, and some are just not up to it.
Thankfully, some of the calvary do return this Friday night with Waqa Blake back from injury and Corey Harawira-Naera also returning after resting a niggling groin problem.
Penrith’s best hope is to get back to basics. Try to dominate possession, muscle up in defence and find much better last tackle options than Cleary and Maloney did against Manly last weekend. The Panthers appear afraid to kick on the last tackle close to the line for fear of giving away a seven tackle set, but the result is almost always poor with the opposition easily getting the ball back.
For the first time this season, I was very close to tipping against the mighty Panthers in this clash, but my heart just can’t do it. If there is fight left in this Penrith side, now is the time to show it. It would be a mighty victory if this second-string team can get up and win.
Tip: Panthers by 2
The Panthers and Warriors play at Panthers Stadium on Friday, July 6 at 7.55pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.