Last weekend’s loss to Newcastle may indeed come back to haunt the Panthers.
With fifth spot on the line, the loss not only robbed the side of being within sight of an unlikely top four finish, but put them out of the top eight entirely.
The cure, however, may come in the shape of upsetting Cronulla at Remondis Stadium this weekend.
The Sharks have their own problems – belted 40-0 by the Sydney Roosters last weekend and facing fresh drama with the ASADA investigation.
CLEARY MAKES CHANGES
The Panthers have a changed line-up compared to the one that battled Newcastle last Sunday.
Forward Mose Masoe has taken the early guilty plea on a high tackle charge and will miss the game, with Jeremy Latimore and Tim Grant to start in the front row.
Grant put in plenty of minutes last weekend while Latimore was impressive off the bench and with game time now behind him, will be ready to fire on Sunday.
Importantly, Sika Manu makes his long-awaited return in the second row and it couldn’t come at a better time given the Panthers’ injury woes.
Manu was in great form even when the Panthers were struggling in the first two months of the season and his addition is more than welcome.
Adam Docker, who was originally expected to be out for up to a month with a fractured cheekbone, has been named at lock and is expected to play.
Sam Anderson gets his chance on the bench, alongside livewire hooker James Segeyaro, Cameron Ciraldo and Ryan Simpkins.
Coach Ivan Cleary has also opted to go with moving Lewis Brown into the centres, dropping Wes Naiqama who was a late starter against the Knights last week.
Moving Brown to the centres in this match makes sense, particularly given the lack of speed in Cronulla’s backline – the Panthers will be well served with the toughness of Brown a little wider than you’d usually see him on the field.
Cronulla are tough to beat at home, and the Panthers haven’t won in the daytime since they thrashed Canberra in the opening round of the competition, but on the bright side, Penrith have played better away from home this season than many expected – winning tough road trips to Kogarah, Parramatta Stadium and Darwin, where they played the Titans in hot conditions.
THE HALVES BATTLE
There’s very little doubt that this game will be won in the halves.
Todd Carney is one of the best halves in the game and when he fires, the Sharks fire. His was extremely quiet against the Roosters last week but brilliant against Brisbane the week before – and the results of those matches speak for themselves.
Luke Walsh has been in great form this season and like Carney, when he is switched on, the Panthers perform so much better.
The halves battle is one to savour this weekend – and I get the feeling you’ll know in the first 15 minutes just where this match is heading.
THE FINAL WORD
I made the call last week that Cronulla won’t make the top eight. Plenty say Penrith won’t either, and this game could well prove to be the deciding factor in that argument.
To win games and win them convincingly, I believe the Sharks need to have Carney, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis on the field at the one time.
That won’t happen this weekend, and I think Penrith may prevail… just.