Someone really needs to take the ladders and black cats out of the Penrith Panthers dressing room.
Last Friday night’s loss to cellar dwellers Parramatta came at a monumental cost with star playmaker Matt Moylan suffering an ankle injury that will see him miss around 10 weeks, while Jamie Soward injured a shoulder and will be forced to play out the rest of the season with the help of painkilling needles.
But even before the injuries to Moylan and Soward, everything was going wrong against the Eels last Friday night.
To put it bluntly, from the opening whistle it appeared that the Eels had turned up to play and Penrith hadn’t.
How the Panthers didn’t turn up given the buzz surrounding this match, the huge crowd and the fact it was a western Sydney derby is hard to fathom, but it happened. Penrith showed some great determination in patches and had the bounce of the ball gone their way a few times, could have even won the match, but there’s no doubting that it was the Eels who always looked in control. That’s not how a clash between eighth place and last should look or play out and it’d be an obvious concern for coach Ivan Cleary.
The one shining light was the performance of Bryce Cartwright, who earned himself a Dally M point in a performance that proved he will be one of Penrith’s most dangerous weapons in the back end of the season.
The Panthers somehow maintained their position in the top eight despite last Friday night’s loss but they won’t be so lucky if they fall to the Melbourne Storm on Saturday night at Pepper Stadium.
Melbourne are backing up from a tough clash against the Roosters on Monday night and a number of their key players – including Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk – are playing their third match in 10 days, so there’s probably no better time for Penrith to meet the formidable Storm. That said, after their worst performance of the season against the Roosters, Melbourne will be looking to make amends.
Penrith lacked any serious punch in attack last week, particularly from the forwards, and while Trent Merrin will solve that problem to a degree next year, it’s not a solution to the current issues.
Sam McKendry ran for 174 metres against Manly in round 10 but only managed 89 against the Eels.
Nigel Plum clocked up 151 metres against Manly but only 42 against the Eels (albeit from limited game time – 25 minutes against the Eels versus 37 against Manly).
The Eels were all over Penrith in defence and with the forwards unable to lay a solid attacking platform, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace didn’t have enough chances to create something.
The Panthers desperately need a better performance from their pack against the Storm on Saturday if they’re to put themselves in a winning position.
Adam Docker has been named on an extended bench and while there’s obviously been some issues keeping him out of first grade, Docker’s rampaging style is something Penrith desperately needs. I hope he gets a start.
The Panthers welcome back Tyrone Peachey from suspension while Dean Whare finally returns from injury.
Both will be fresh from their respective breaks and it could make a big difference against a tired Melbourne at the back end.
– Troy Dodds