Sunday afternoon footy roars into Centrebet Stadium this weekend when Penrith host Manly in a game the home side will be desperate to win.
It’s been a mixed couple of weeks for the Panthers – fresh from the exhilaration of their golden point victory over the Dragons, they then had to deal with the heartache of a two-point loss to the Cowboys in a game that really could have gone either way.
It was two points the Panthers sorely needed as they currently sit on six points with only the hapless Eels below them.
Not a great look for western Sydney. Still, the boys need to brush themselves off and prepare for a clash with the Sea Eagles.
If nothing else, the last two weeks will have instilled some belief in the club that all is not lost and 2012 can still be salvaged.
The injury ward is beginning to clear up – only Michael Gordon and Nathan Smith remain, meaning the Panthers are getting somewhere close to their full-strength squad once again.
Indeed, Nigel Plum returns to the side this week from a long-term shoulder injury and should add some starch to the back row. The fact that Ivan Cleary has rushed him straight back into the side without a stop at Windsor speaks volumes of what the coach thinks is needed.
Truth be told, the Panthers don’t have a great record against the Eagles – they’ve won just one of their last five encounters, including a 30-0 drubbing in round 6 this year.
Despite facing a depleted Manly outfit, the Panthers were wretched that night, with dropped ball and pedestrian attack resulting in a scoreline that flattered their opponents. It was a major low point of Penrith’s season.
Manly will be much stronger in this clash with a plethora of players back on deck, so the Panthers will need to respect – perhaps even revere – the ball if they’re to stand a chance.
Their lack of concentration at the start of halves is alarming – Chris Armit’s dropped ball just moments into the second half against the Cowboys was just the latest in a string of unforced mistakes that have cost the team dearly.
But all hope is not lost. With Luke Walsh back on board, Travis Burns playing out of his skin and Blake Austin improving with every game, the Panthers have three very different styles of playmaker, and they looked a constant danger last week.
One player that would surely add to that danger is Michael Jennings, but after being in the Origin camp with the Blues, the coach obviously isn’t ready to bring him back to first grade yet, and he hasn’t been named.
With disappointing attendance in the last couple of home games, it would be great to see a bumper crowd this Sunday, so head on down to Centrebet Stadium and cheer for the upset against the defending premiers.