The contrasting realities of Penrith’s past and present were on show in the first round of the National Rugby League competition.
In the past was 2007-2011 coach Matthew Elliott, who watched his New Zealand Warriors get thumped 40-10 by last year’s wooden spooners Parramatta, and quickly offered many of the same excuses that we’d become used to hearing during his time at the foot of the Mountains.
In the present, a new-look Panthers side whacked Canberra 32-10 at Penrith Stadium and provided a glimmer of hope that the Ivan Cleary reign at Penrith has some light at the end of the tunnel.
The win over Canberra was highlighted by performances by some of the Panthers’ new recruits, particularly James Segeyaro and Sika Manu. When Segeyaro came onto the park 20 minutes into the first half, it provided a spark that the side not only needed on Sunday, but one that had been missing for several seasons. As for Manu, he has added some firepower to the second row that Penrith simply didn’t have last year, and if he remains fit, he will be a powerhouse for the team this season.
After the game, Cleary rightly summed it up as a “mature” performance. It was far from perfect, round one performances rarely are, and at times it was awfully scratchy, but the side showed that with a few more cobwebs out of the way, the talent exists to make a mark this season.
Penrith face the tough task of taking on the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium this Sunday and don’t think for one minute that their thumping at the hands of Newcastle on Monday night is good news for the Panthers.
Playing on their home turf for the first time this season, we all know that the Tigers shine on Sunday afternoons; and after suffering such a heavy defeat to the Knights, they now have a point to prove, both to the fans and to themselves given the changes they have been through in the pre-season.
The big difference between taking on Canberra last weekend and the Tigers this Sunday is that unlike the Raiders, the Tigers won’t let you get away with silly mistakes. They won’t let you have a settling in period, and they certainly won’t give up just because the scoreboard suggests they should.
The Panthers will certainly need to improve their last tackle options if they are to beat the Tigers on Sunday, and a few bombs to the wings wouldn’t go astray based on what we saw of the Tigers on Monday night.
Against Canberra, Penrith seemed uncertain on the last play of a set, often throwing away opportunities to put Canberra out of the game much earlier than they did. Luke Walsh must find the in-goal area throughout the game, and force the Tigers to work hard to bring the ball back. Walsh or Lachlan Coote need to take control of the last play, because if they don’t, the Tigers are the type of side who will make them pay with a 90 metre runaway try.
COOTE’S TOUGHEST CHALLENGE
New five-eighth Lachlan Coote faces a huge challenge on Sunday against the freakishly talented Benji Marshall. Coote is still struggling to find his feet in the number six jumper and at times looked out of his depth against the Raiders and in the pre-season trials, but he proved at the back end of last season that he has natural ability in the halves and hence coach Cleary will certainly persist with him there for some time.
THE FINAL WORD
This game is a much tougher proposition for the Panthers than last weekend’s match against Canberra, but if players like Segeyaro and Manu can again have good games, and if some of the little errors in Penrith’s game can be rectified, then there’s no reason we can’t make it two from two.