In the moments before their match against the Bulldogs last Sunday, the Penrith squad gathered in a huddle on the Pepper Stadium turf.
It’s a common sight in world sport and who knows what was said, but it provided a glimpse into what this squad is all about – playing for each other.
Over the next 80 minutes, Penrith proved why they are one of the competition heavyweights this year – building their way to a 24-0 lead before showing the strength to deny a miracle Bulldogs comeback.
Truth be told, the Panthers of a few years ago would probably have let the Bulldogs cross the line one more time in those final few minutes.
Sure, there were standout performances last Sunday. George Jennings ran over 200 metres and scored on debut – the dream of any player coming into first grade. James Segeyaro showed why he was the Hooker of the Year in 2014 by scoring a sensational try, making 31 tackles and running the ball himself nine times. And Elijah Taylor defended his heart out, making 45 tackles in the stifling heat (more than anyone else in the match).
Individual brilliance aside, it’s what this bunch of guys do as a team that matters most.
This is a team that clicks, where everybody knows their job, where nobody lets their teammate down.
After kicking off the season with a win against Canterbury, Penrith now hit the road for a ‘home’ game against the Gold Coast Titans in Bathurst on Saturday afternoon.
Last year’s trip to Bathurst, the first of a long-term deal with the regional town, was one to forget – the Panthers lost to the Sharks and saw Peter Wallace go down injured, never to be seen again in 2014.
This time around they face a side that is going through significant turmoil in the shape of the Titans, who showed great grit and determination against the Tigers last weekend but ultimately went down thanks to a Pat Richards field goal in the dying moments.
Confusion still surrounds the short term futures of star players Dave Taylor and Greg Bird. Given both plead not guilty to drugs charges on Monday, you really do have to wonder if the NRL has a leg to stand on in terms of keeping them out of the game.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary’s focus this week would have been on his own team rather than the opposition. Focusing too much on the opposition, particularly when there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding them, is only going to cause you a migraine.
Cleary probably earned himself a few grey hairs in those final 15 minutes against the Bulldogs on Sunday, but in retrospect, he’ll be glad it happened. It would have brought the squad down to Earth and certainly given Cleary something to work on with his troops during the week.
Both Sika Manu and Brent Kite struggled when they came back on for their final stints and while the weather was probably partly to blame for the mini collapse, Cleary will need to ensure his middle is stronger for those final minutes, particularly if the game against the Titans is in the balance.
The only thing Penrith didn’t do right on Sunday was go in for the kill when their prey was on the ground, struggling for life.
I doubt they’ll make the same mistake if put in the same position again.
– Troy Dodds