Any coach, player, fan or official will tell you that winning away from home is a good indicator of a side’s strength in the competition.
Having just collected two wins in a row on the road, the Panthers would have to be pretty happy with themselves heading into Sunday afternoon’s clash with Newcastle at Penrith Stadium.
Last weekend’s win over the Eels wasn’t the comprehensive thrashing that many expected, but guided by Luke Walsh’s kicking game, the Panthers managed to grind out a tough win that probably would have a better mental impact than a 40-point thrashing of their arch rivals.
I’ve said it a few times this year but I’ll say it again in this case – Penrith would have lost that game against the Eels last year, or the year before. The side just didn’t have the same kind of spirit in defence, or commitment to the game plan, to sustain pressure put on them by the opposition.
This is a very different Penrith with a very different attitude.
Unfortunately, the same old injury problems exist though, and the Panthers will this weekend be without Nigel Plum, Matt Robinson and Brad Tighe after the trio suffered long-term injuries against the Eels.
The loss of Plum is a particularly tough blow. With Tim Grant having a hot and cold season and Sam McKendry being injured, Plum has stepped up this year to be the club’s leading front rower.
The Panthers sit in seventh position heading into this weekend’s match, equal with the Knights on 20 points, who sit one place above them thanks to a slightly superior for and against.
Games like this against clubs who sit in that clump of sides from sixth to 10th on the ladder are crucial and in the long run, worth much more than the two competition points on offer for the win.
At the moment Penrith control their own destiny, but one slip-up could see them out of the eight and with some big games coming up against Cronulla and the Roosters, dropping a game like Newcastle could be a fatal blow.
The Knights, on their day, are a quality side. They can put 30 or 40 points on you in the blink of an eye, but conversely, they’ve been hammered by just as many points a few times this year as well.
One thing I think is for certain is that you won’t see a scoreline anything like 8-6, which is how the game between these two clubs earlier this season finished.
Both sides have found their point-scoring mojos since then.
In fact, one of the real highlights this weekend will be seeing the rejuvenated David Simmons – who has scored 15 tries this season – up against try-scoring machine James McManus, who has scored 16. McManus will be backing up from State of Origin duties, but it’s fair to say that the winner of the battle between these two wingers could decide the end result.
On the other side of the field, Akuila Uate finds himself up against speed machine James Roberts – who we’re all waiting to see in clear space. Again, the battle here will be important, and it is no secret that Penrith’s left-side defence has been a bit of a worry in the last couple of weeks.
With points out wide on offer, again much of the pressure this weekend will fall on Walsh, whose vision has been superb this season. Walsh must lay the platform for the points out wide and control the game from the outset – one gets the feeling that if Penrith were to get up 12-0 in the first quarter of the game, the Knights won’t have what it takes to come back.
I’m tipping Penrith to win, but if it does come down to the final 10 minutes of the contest, I think Newcastle have the slight advantage in their ability to create a magical spark that could win the game.