The Penrith Panthers roared back into finals contention last weekend with an impressive 35-12 victory over the Wests Tigers, and return home this Friday night to play the Rabbitohs with their confidence sky high.
It has been well documented that the Panthers ravaged the Tigers’ left-side defence after Tim Simona was taken off the field injured, but Penrith’s big win was about more than that.
It was about Peter Wallace defying the critics and producing his best game of the season so far.
It was about Dean Whare showing the form we know he’s capable of to secure man of the match honours.
And yes, it was about David Simmons and those four tries.
Despite ex-Panther and Channel Nine commentator Brad Fittler saying Penrith looked “sleepy” in the warm-up, the side looked anything but as they produced a performance that could very well start an important run of wins at a crucial part of the season.
The Panthers face the Rabbitohs this weekend and the Roosters the weekend after.
The fortnight ahead is not going to be easy, but the Panthers enter the gauntlet in the best possible head space after doing against the Tigers what they’ve struggled to do in the past few weeks – score points.
The Rabbitohs did enough to beat lowly Manly on Friday night but are far from the side that won the 2014 premiership. There’s no doubt that they’re vulnerable heading into this game, particularly given superstar fullback Greg Inglis will be missing due to Origin duty.
In some ways, it evens the playing field given the Panthers are also without their number one, with Matt Moylan still on the sideline.
Souths have been up and down all season, and their past three matches exemplify their yo-yo of a year.
In round 13, they hammered the Warriors 36-4 in Perth. Less than seven days later, the Tigers totally outplayed them to win 34-6, while last weekend they were good without being great against Manly, winning 20-8.
While David Simmons has earned most of the praise following last weekend’s win over the Tigers, it was his opposite winger, Josh Mansour, who made a huge difference to Penrith’s fortunes.
His defence was rock solid and aggressive, while his fantastic try in the corner of Leichhardt Oval probably wouldn’t have been scored by Waqa Blake, who despite his best efforts has struggled in similar situations while filling in for ‘Sauce’.
Mansour ran for 187 metres (the most by any Panther on Sunday), made 12 tackles, produced a line break and scored that freakish try in a stellar display.
The short turnaround is an obvious issue for the Panthers but when you win like they did on Sunday, there’s every reason to believe that playing again just five days later is not such a bad thing.
Jamie Soward came out of Sunday’s match with a corked leg and seemed to be struggling at the club’s recovery session on Monday, but should be right to play.
Ivan Cleary has named an unchanged team for the match.
Penrith go into the game as outsiders, but with Inglis out, Mansour in and the Panthers back in the winners’ circle, there’s every reason to be confident of back to back victories.
Tip: Panthers by 4
– Troy Dodds