Panthers fans, you can hit the panic button now.
In fact, you can smash it as hard as you can.
After last weekend’s 24-12 loss to the Bulldogs, it’s clear now that the Panthers are facing a severe uphill battle to reach the finals.
Injuries have of course crippled Penrith’s chances of building any momentum in this year’s competition but you have to wonder if the problems go beyond the obvious toll of hurt players.
For the last month, we’ve watched the Panthers be totally dominated by their opposition early in matches, forcing the side to play catch-up football.
In their last three games against the Eels, Storm and Bulldogs, the opposition has led by 12-0 by the 8th, 18th and 15th minutes respectively.
When you play catch-up football, there’s a good chance that your error rate and frustration levels will rise – particularly when you’ve got young players filling in for senior guys who are on the sideline.
Penrith’s confidence appears shot at the moment.
At ANZ Stadium last weekend, the Bulldogs sprinted back onto the field for the second half – keen to tackle the next 40 minutes of football. The Panthers on the other hand strolled out like they were going for a team walk at the beach. Something wasn’t right about it.
As it turned out the Bulldogs scored just five minutes into the second half and the rest is history.
So yes, hit the panic button, but be careful where you lay the blame as only those on the inside really know what the issue is at the moment.
Pointing the finger at individual players is risky business, particularly when many of them are doing their best in trying circumstances. Nobody plays to lose.
Penrith’s obvious problem at the moment is scoring points.
The side has scored a total of 12 points in their last 160 minutes of football and is constantly failing to convert opportunities close to the line.
Defence isn’t really the issue – despite an at times awful completion and error rate, the Panthers haven’t been blown off the park during this period of poor form and that’s definitely a plus for coach Ivan Cleary, who almost certainly would have worked solely on boosting the side’s attacking credentials this week.
If the Panthers are to crawl out of the hole they’re currently in, it will most likely be on the back of Bryce Cartwright who has been sensational for the Panthers over the last month. Cleary had some trouble with Cartwright earlier in the season but a stint in the lower grades has had the desired result – he’s Penrith’s best at the moment.
The Panthers also add some power this weekend with the return of Josh Mansour.
I’m willing to say that the side that loses this game at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday will not make the finals – or at least will find it very difficult to do so.
If both sides can show the form they’ve threatened to produce at various times this season, a good game of football may just break out.
My fear for the Panthers is that even a good performance might not be enough – they’re in a slump at the moment that could take two to three weeks to come out the other side of.
Let’s just hope that when the wins finally do come, it’s not too late.
Tip: Tigers by 8
– Troy Dodds