It’s the stuff sporting fairytales are made of: An under-strength, struggling team comes up against a monster success story and somehow walks away victorious.
Penrith’s 12-10 victory over Melbourne on Sunday night was groundbreaking – the Panthers last beat them in 2005 – but it also sets up the possibility of reviving the 2013 season.
The Panthers face the Warriors this weekend followed by the Dragons and the Tigers, with a bye thrown in. It is not overstating the situation to suggest that Penrith is a realistic chance of coming away with the maximum competition points from the next month of football.
Penrith’s win last Sunday is one we’ll talk about for years to come, but its worth will be watered down slightly if the side doesn’t take full advantage this weekend and come out fired up against the Warriors.
The Warriors, under the guidance of former Penrith mentor Matthew Elliott, are a dangerous outfit at their best, but seem to disappear into a dark, black hole in the final 20 minutes of matches; as was the case against the Bulldogs last Saturday, where they blew a 16-0 lead to ultimately go down 24-16 in Wellington.
With the exception of a couple of matches, the Panthers haven’t been able to score a truckload of points this season and hence, will want to be either in front or only a few points behind come that 60 minute mark on Saturday evening.
What matters most is that the Panthers come into the clash with the same passion, the same heart and the same commitment in defence that they did against the Storm.
The side tackled its heart out in an inspiring display that left everyone on the park battered and bruised.
NOT HALF BAD
Penrith have struggled to find the right halves combination this season, primarily because of injury, but whilst it might not be the answer in the long-term, the Luke Walsh / Isaac John combination seems to be a winner if last weekend is anything to go by.
Walsh played a tactical game on Sunday against Melbourne, creating a stop-start affair that never really let the Storm get into their groove. John meanwhile was energetic and had a buzz about him that really added some spark to the contest.
The Warriors have some great raw talent across the park, and can certainly get on a roll at times, but if Penrith can contain them in the same way they did Melbourne, they’ll struggle to score points and will get extremely frustrated.
Tim Grant had a slow start to the season but he has been much improved in recent weeks, and on Sunday night had his best game of the season – incredibly, running over 200 metres. In fact, six players ran over 100 metres against the Storm, which showed the great go-forward the side had overall. It is not Grant, however, that Penrith have relied upon most in the forwards this year.
The emergence of Adam Docker has been a revelation in 2013, while Nigel Plum has gone from a fringe first grader to one of the hardest hitters at the club. He’s become our new Mr Reliable in the forward pack.
THE FINAL WORD
We know that Penrith has an enormous injury toll and the side could well use that as an excuse should they lose this, or any other match in the coming weeks.
But if you can come up against players like Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith and get the better of them, then your team has something that just clicks. Penrith must prove last weekend wasn’t a fluke.