Believe it or not, Penrith haven’t beaten the Wests Tigers since April 2010 with the side staring down the barrel of an eighth straight loss to the merged club should they not emerge victorious at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
The last time these two sides met (outside of a pre-season trial in Camden back in February) was more than a year ago and on that day, the Panthers gave up an 18-8 lead to go down 20-18 at Penrith Stadium.
It was the type of game Penrith wouldn’t lose in 2014, perhaps a sign of just how much change has gone through the Panthers camp in the last year.
Another sign of how much has changed is the fact that only one player – Sam McKendry – remains from the last Penrith side to beat the Tigers.
Tim Grant and Kevin Kingston were there, too, but both now find themselves in reserve grade, unable to get back into the top squad.
Sunday’s game is important for both clubs in the context of the overall season.
For the Panthers, last Sunday’s loss to the Warriors brought the side back down to Earth and with the competition lead now surrendered, the mission is to remain in the top four and to stay clear of sides like the Rabbitohs and Roosters who will both win more games than they’ll lose at the back end of the season.
For Wests Tigers, a win would not only keep them in the top eight but would see them join Penrith on 22 competition points, and leave them potentially just one win from the top of the competition ladder depending on the result of tonight’s clash between the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs. Only a poor for and against record is keeping the Tigers out of the top four at the moment, and the side showed last week just how committed they are this season by holding on against Canberra despite everything going against them.
They’ll need to show a similar determination this Sunday as there’s no doubt the side is under strength.
The Tigers will be without their inspirational captain Robbie Farah due to Origin commitments, with Aaron Woods also in camp with the Blues.
A serious knee injury to James Tedesco suffered in the opening seconds of the win over the Raiders also adds to the woes of the Tigers this Sunday and truly tests their depth.
Penrith is not without problems either, with Jamie Soward fighting to be fit for the game after injuring his ankle last Sunday. The injury is not as bad as first thought but it’s unlikely he’ll play against the Tigers.
Penrith’s loss to the Warriors last weekend was hardly embarrassing and in fact, minus a couple of brain explosions in the second half Penrith could have and probably should have won the game. The side lost a little bit of direction when Soward went off just before half-time, and never seemed to have control in the second half despite Peter Wallace doing his best to steady the ship.
Wallace must look back to the game against Melbourne in round two to find inspiration when playing without his partner in crime in the halves, though on that occasion he did have Isaac John with him to ease some of the pressure.
Even if Soward does play on Sunday, he won’t be 100 per cent right and Wallace will need to take the lead.
Jamal Idris was a welcome return to the top grade last weekend and he was like a dog with a bone for much of the game – hopefully his stint on the sideline has given him the time he needed to focus on football again, and he’ll only get better with another run or two under his belt.
Coach Cleary knows just how important this game is – a win could get things back on track after the slip-up in New Zealand last week, while a loss could start to really expose some worrying signs for the side, particularly with games against Brisbane and the Roosters coming up.
If Penrith can score early and silence the Leichhardt crowd, it’ll go a long way to securing a win.
Tip: Panthers by 6.