After two strong performances to start the season, the undefeated top-of-the-table Panthers face their toughest test so far against the Sydney Roosters on Monday night at Allianz Stadium.
And they’ll do it without playmaker Jamie Soward, who underwent minor back surgery earlier this week and will be out for at least a month.
Soward’s injury opens the door for Isaac John, who has plenty of first grade experience and certainly won’t let the side down.
The Roosters went down to the Rabbitohs last Sunday but throughout the game proved why they are among the competition heavyweights this season.
Penrith thrashed Gold Coast 40-0 but the Roosters will not be as forgiving if Penrith produce a first half as sloppy as the one they did at Carrington Park in Bathurst.
An 80 minute performance as good as what they produced in the second half will ensure the Panthers are in the contest.
Here’s what I can assure you about the Roosters: They won’t lie down like the Titans did in the second half last weekend, and they won’t be as flat and tired as the Bulldogs were in round one.
This means Penrith very much needs to step up another gear on Monday night.
Certainly, things are starting to click just as Ivan Cleary would have hoped.
Some of the backline moves last weekend were pure brilliance, particularly Bryce Cartwright’s try late in the game that saw some beautiful lead-up work from Jamal Idris, Jamie Soward and Matt Moylan.
Moylan is again a key on Monday night. He has got plenty of wraps on him and it would now seem that he’s the favourite to wear the number one jersey for New South Wales later this year, but it’s in games like this that he needs to step up.
Penrith cannot afford for Moylan to have an off-night, particularly against a Roosters side that will punish every dropped ball, every error of judgement.
Cleary has resisted the temptation to move Moylan into the halves to cover the loss of Soward, a smart move given how much Moylan injects himself into attacking plays anyway.
Penrith were gifted plenty of football by the Titans last weekend, who had an awful completion rate of 52 per cent. Compare that to the Roosters, who despite losing, completed 86 per cent of their sets.
The Roosters will not give Penrith as many opportunities as the Titans, or even the Bulldogs, did and that means the Panthers must take advantage of every chance they get.
The Roosters have plenty of speed out wide, but the Panthers have probably the best centre pairing in the game at the moment with both Jamal Idris and Dean Whare enjoying dream starts to the season.
In both attack and defence, Whare and Idris are solid – that’ll make it very hard for the Roosters to focus their attack out wide. Hence, I think you’ll find the Roosters will try their luck through the middle where players like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and Sam Moa would rate their chances against Penrith’s pack.
That said, they can take on Sam McKendry and Brent Kite at their own risk.
With the Panthers looking to prove themselves against a premiership heavyweight and the Roosters determined to bounce back from a loss to the Rabbitohs last Sunday, this game promises to be an absolute corker.
– Troy Dodds