How quickly a single, solitary month can change things.
Four weeks ago the Panthers were on top of the world after defeating South Sydney 20-6 in front of a huge TV audience and a big crowd at Penrith Stadium.
Penrith and Souths meet again this weekend and the journey of both sides since that Friday night in early July has been vastly different – and not what the result that night suggested.
The Rabbitohs have collected all six available competition points since that match thanks to a bye and convincing wins over the Dragons and Knights.
Penrith meanwhile have lost to the Roosters, Storm and Raiders in the weeks that followed that impressive win.
The Rabbitohs regrouped after that defeat and were able to return to form soon after and now appear to have their premiership defence back on track. The Panthers somehow fell apart, losing confidence against the Roosters and never regaining it against the Storm or Raiders.
Just how much has changed in the last month will be evident when the two sides meet again on Sunday.
The Panthers actually looked OK in attack last week, scoring four impressive tries including one to Robert Jennings off a slick scrumbase move, but again their defence let them down. The side conceded some soft tries and often couldn’t read Canberra’s enthusiasm in attack – a flaw in young players that is being further exposed by Penrith’s current injury crisis.
Ivan Cleary said post-match that the Panthers “beat themselves” and he isn’t wrong – at times during the game his side looked to be on top of their opposition and in fact had a strong breeze in their favour during the second half that should have carried them to victory.
Soft errors (the Panthers made a total of 15 mistakes) and some poor defence close to the line was enough to ensure the Raiders kept their season alive while the Panthers pondered what could have been.
For Cleary, this week will surely be about tightening up those two facets of his team’s game – errors and defence. After all, with four line breaks and 19 offloads, the Panthers certainly showed they can still be dangerous in attack even without their most noted playmaker in Matt Moylan.
The Panthers welcome back Josh Mansour this weekend but the good news essentially stops there with Peter Wallace, Dean Whare and Nigel Plum added to the team’s injury list.
Cleary obviously isn’t going to fix all of Penrith’s problems in seven days and if he had the magic solution, he would have implemented it already.
What he can ask for is a more committed effort – an effort where everyone plays for each other, where communication is strong and where his senior players lift the entire feeling within the team.
It may be becoming evident that Penrith will miss the finals this year, but that does not mean that anyone has the right to put on a jersey steeped in history and tradition and not give 100 per cent. If you turn up on Sunday and you plan on running onto the ANZ Stadium turf in a Panthers jumper, you better be prepared to give it your all – even if your all is not enough at the end of the 80 minutes.
Pride, passion and giving it your best is all that Cleary and Panthers fans can ask for from their team right now.
Let’s get in there and fight.
Tip: Panthers by 2
– Troy Dodds