A rookie coach, an horrific injury toll and an out-of-form superstar – it’s safe to say that times haven’t been easy for the Wests Tigers.
In fact, things are a lot different now than they were just three months ago when the Tigers beat the Panthers at Campbelltown Stadium in their first meeting of the season.
It was a tough day at the office for the Panthers, who lost Lachlan Coote with a pectoral injury that would put an untimely end to his season.
This Sunday, Penrith have an opportunity for revenge.
FIRST TIME FAVOURITES
Sunday’s clash against the Tigers will mark the first time this season that Penrith has been favourites for a match, but for forward Clint Newton, it won’t be a factor.
“I don’t really read anything into previous form – I think this competition is closer than what some people think it is,” Newton said.
“We just need to go into the game fully prepared and just worry about ourselves.”
Newton knows that Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah are big threats for the Tigers, but said Penrith needed to concentrate on their own game and not worry too much about the opposition.
“We can only control how we prepare and if we’re doing all the right things at training, we can go into the game confident in our ability, but respectful of who we are playing against,” Newton said.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
After a 19-0 win over the Dragons in their last hitout, there’s no doubt now that Penrith is not flying under the radar. Now sitting in the top eight, the Panthers are emerging as a surprise packet of the competition.
Forward Mose Masoe knows just how much that changes things.
“It’s always easier going into the game as the underdog – it makes it a bit easier for your mindset,” he said.
“We’ve been the underdogs in all the other games we’ve been in, so this is kind of a different game for us.”
Despite winning three games in a row, the Panthers still haven’t totally convinced all rugby league followers that they’re a legitimate finals chance, so victory this Sunday is critical in not only staying inside the top eight, but proving to the doubters that the Panthers deserve to be respected in the second half of the season. A big win would certainly achieve that.
ORIGIN PLAYS A ROLE
Tim Grant would be bitterly disappointed to miss out on Origin selection but the Blues’ loss could well be Penrith’s gain should Grant fire up and show Laurie Daley and the selectors what they missed out on.
Grant has been in and out of form this year but has been making some big metres in Penrith’s most recent victories, and he’ll need to fire up again this weekend.
On the other side of the fence, the Tigers will be hoping that captain Robbie Farah got through Wednesday night’s Origin OK and will play on Sunday.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tigers got some much-needed confidence with a win over the Cowboys prior to last weekend’s bye, meaning both these sides have something to feel good about heading into kickoff on Sunday.
The Panthers are on such a roll, that it’s hard to see the under-strength Tigers ending their winning run this round. However, if Benji finds his mojo, and if the Panthers show even for one moment that they’re taking the match for granted, things will turn sour pretty quickly. Staying focused and switched on is the big key for Penrith.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary publicly said he felt the bye came at the right time for his troops. We can only hope the confidence gained from three consecutive wins remains at a high come Sunday at 3.00pm.