Confidence is high in Pantherland at the moment and after two impressive wins over the Wests Tigers and South Sydney, there’s every reason to believe Penrith can make it three in a row against competition heavyweights the Roosters this Saturday evening at Pepper Stadium.
On the big stage of Friday Night Football last weekend, Bryce Cartwright announced himself as a genuine superstar in the making – and he has the ‘rise from adversity’ story to go with it after revelations doctors believed he may never play again after he was injured last season.
Cartwright is such an impressive player and given he’s just 20-years-old, the best is yet to come.
You can be almost certain that coach Ivan Cleary won’t try and calm down his free style of play, which helped to create that stunning try to Dean Whare in the first half against the Rabbitohs.
Cartwright will have good and bad days, especially given the risks he takes as a footballer, but he has the raw ability and class to ensure the good more than outweighs the bad.
He faces a tough ask this weekend against a Roosters side that is fresh after a bye last weekend and comes into this game on the back of a 20-10 victory over the Gold Coast Titans on the Central Coast. The win wasn’t pretty, but the side did enough to grab the two points – something that wasn’t happening earlier in the year when they lost several close games.
The Roosters boast a range of attacking weapons that have the potential to run riot over the Panthers if they’re not totally switched on. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Blake Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall can all find their way to the try-line and will be tough for Penrith to contain.
Losing Josh Mansour to injury again is a huge blow for the Panthers as his toughness in defence, which was on display against the Tigers, is really needed in a game like this.
I think where the Roosters are most vulnerable this week is in the halves.
James Maloney has already signed to go elsewhere next season and no matter how strong-minded you are, it’s never easy to concentrate fully on the task at hand when you know you’re on the move.
Mitchell Pearce, meanwhile, will swap the euphoria of playing in an Origin decider in front of a sellout crowd at Suncorp Stadium with a trip to a cold Penrith Stadium just four days later – it’s never easy to adjust in those circumstances.
On the other side of the fence, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace have certainly found their mojo and are controlling Penrith’s attack so well at the moment. Wallace was desperately out of form prior to the match against the Tigers but has shown in the last two weeks why he is a genuine leader of this team.
I’m also expecting Nigel Plum and Jeremy Latimore to step up against one of the game’s best packs.
Against the Tigers a fortnight ago, the Panthers returned to form.
Against the Rabbitohs last week, they made a statement of intent to the rest of the competition.
Now it’s time to find out how legitimate Penrith’s claims are.
This is a big, big game – don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. I expect it go to down to the wire.
Tip: Panthers by 6
– Troy Dodds