Only keyboard warriors and social media trolls write off a team after round one of the competition.
While Penrith’s 30-22 loss to Canberra last weekend was a disappointing way to start the season, we’re far from putting a red felt tip pen through the Panthers’ chances in 2016.
The key turning point last weekend should have come in the 45th minute when Josh Mansour scored out wide. It put the Panthers up 22-16, and in the lead-up to the try Canberra’s key playmaker Blake Austin was injured and ultimately forced from the field.
With the hot conditions in play, the Panthers should have capitalised on the six point lead and Austin’s injury and closed out the game – even though there was more than half an hour remaining.
Instead, they fumbled their way through the rest of the match – highlighted by a critical dropped ball by Mansour close to Penrith’s line and then Peta Hiku’s crucial error with the game on the line in the last minute.
While James Segeyaro’s injury is another setback, it’s quite clear the Panthers have the nucleus of a good team – but the round one jitters were obvious.
Coach Anthony Griffin would have learned quite a bit about his team from that game and while a short turnaround into the Bulldogs isn’t ideal, it will give him an opportunity to make some quick on-the-run changes without getting too bogged down in what happened in Canberra.
Trent Merrin made a solid debut in Panthers colours, leading the metres gained, scoring a try and adding some mobility to the Panthers’ pack.
I thought he and Bryce Cartwright were Penrith’s best, the latter playing 80 minutes in awfully hot conditions, perhaps a sign of his current fitness.
The task against the Bulldogs on Thursday night is not an easy one, especially after they put the cleaners through Manly at Brookvale Oval last Friday night. Despite all the pre-season talk about the Bulldogs struggling to deal with the new interchange rules, they did it easily against a Sea Eagles side that looked very uncoordinated under new coach Trent Barrett.
The loss of Segeyaro is a significant one for Penrith. He’s been replaced by Tyrone Peachey in the number nine jumper, with Griffin resisting the temptation of handing another youngster their debut.
Peachey’s move to hooker means that Elijah Taylor earns a recall. His defensive work around the ruck was clearly missing last weekend and his return is a welcome one for Penrith.
The Bulldogs have also lost their starting hooker to injury with Michael Lichaa hurt against the Sea Eagles, with Craig Garvey named as his replacement.
Kerrod Holland makes his debut at centre with Chase Stanley ruled out, while David Klemmer returns from suspension.
With games against Brisbane, the Dragons and Cowboys coming up, getting on the board and earning two competition points is vital against the Bulldogs on Thursday.
I’m confident that even without Matt Moylan, the Panthers can do enough at home to grab the win.
Tip: Panthers by 2
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.