Much mystery surrounds the make-up of the Penrith team that will take the field tonight against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
Ivan Cleary named his side as required on Tuesday but at that stage, not even he knew who would be right to play against the competition leaders and who wouldn’t be.
There’s every chance that Penrith will welcome back five-eighth and star playmaker Jamie Soward, who trained at full strength during the week.
Soward caught the plan to Brisbane yesterday and is a near certainty to play.
Rumours suggested his halves partner Peter Wallace could also make a return but it’s understood he won’t be back until the May 29 clash with Parramatta.
Elijah Taylor, also not named on Tuesday, is likely to return tonight as well.
There’s also some doubt over dynamic fullback Matt Moylan who suffered a hand injury while playing for City last weekend – he has been in doubt all week. It would seem he is likely to play through the pain at this stage.
On the flip side, Brisbane have also had a somewhat disrupted preparation with Darius Boyd fighting the clock to be right for this one, while Sam Thaiday will be missing after copping a one week ban following an incident in last weekend’s Test match.
The bottom line? Nobody really knows what’s going on right now.
Meanwhile, the disruption of the representative weekend is quite obvious. It’s hardly a week off – Penrith had some 17 players away from regular duties and there’s no doubt Ivan Cleary would have been keen to get his side back together on Monday or Tuesday of this week.
The Panthers not only had so many players away from camp, but by the time those players got back to Penrith on Monday or Tuesday, Cleary had very little time to prepare his troops ahead of the flight to Brisbane on Thursday. Penrith are without doubt on the back foot for this one – still injury ravaged, with more players in doubt, and forced into what is essentially the equivalent of a short turnaround. Throw in the travel to Brisbane, and things are without doubt looking a little bit shaky.
But it is Cleary’s job to manage that situation and if he’s proven anything in the last two years, it’s that he can get his side clicking even in the most challenging of circumstances.
No matter who does and doesn’t play tonight, it would seem that the Panthers are through the worst of their injury crisis.
Only Jamal Idris won’t return this year and over the next six weeks or so there will be a procession of returning players – Soward, Wallace, Taylor, Segeyaro, Whare, Brent Kite and Josh Mansour heading the list.
Barring any further serious injuries, Penrith will be fielding a near full-strength side by the time the mid-way point of the season comes around.
With so much mystery surrounding the team line-ups – and your writer forced to pen this preview on Wednesday – the best I can offer is this: If Penrith play with the same attitude they took into the game against Cronulla, they are every chance of pulling off an upset victory.
If they slip, even slightly, the Broncos can rack up points very, very quickly.
Players like Lewis Brown, Tyrone Peachey and Bryce Cartwright really need to shine in this one.
Tip: Panthers by 4
– Troy Dodds