On Wednesday afternoon the Penrith Panthers boarded a bus bound for Bathurst where they’ll take on the Canberra Raiders for the second time this season.
It’s always great when clubs take NRL footy to the bush and perhaps no one does it better than the Panthers, who will play at the historic Carrington Park venue for the third straight year.
Penrith’s record in the state’s central west has been mixed over the years. In 2014, they lost a tight one against the Sharks before belting the Gold Coast Titans 40-0 last season.
This Saturday’s clash against the Raiders could be anything, with both sides enjoying a rather inconsistent opening two months.
The Canberra Raiders can look like premiership favourites one week, while the next they look like a park footy side.
The Raiders were hammered for two straight weeks before going on to thrash the Wests Tigers 60-6 last Saturday in Canberra.
The Panthers on the other hand are consistent at one thing, and that’s giving every supporter a near heart attack week in, week out.
Last Sunday was another case this year when Penrith had the victory in the bag before relinquishing the lead to Cronulla in the dying minutes.
Despite losing half Te Maire Martin and centre Waqa Blake early on, the Panthers put on another brave and strong performance that deserved the two points.
This week I spoke with young forward James Fisher-Harris following a boxing session with none other than head coach Anthony Griffin.
Yep, that’s right, Anthony Griffin is Penrith’s version of Rocky Balboa in the hit movie ‘Creed’ – trying to make his players mentally tougher than ever before.
“Hook likes it old school… it’s a mentality thing,” Fisher-Harris said of Griffin’s boxing sessions.
I must say I think Griffin is onto something because this Panthers side looks far more mentally tougher and stronger than in previous years.
Take last Sunday’s loss to the Sharks as an example. In the past, Penrith would’ve fallen on their sword if two of their attacking weapons went down, but that wasn’t the case at Shark Park with the Panthers fighting to the bitter end only to go down.
What we saw last weekend is what we’ve been seeing all season long – a tougher, resilient Panthers team that’s staying in the fight right to the very end.
This Saturday afternoon’s match against the Raiders could very well be one of those games.
Interestingly, for the first time since Penrith were last in Bathurst, the Panthers spine will feature captain Matt Moylan at fullback, Jamie Soward at five-eighth, Peter Wallace at halfback and James Segeyaro at hooker.
The changes come after young half Te Maire Martin was ruled out for the season with a fractured shoulder while Wallace shifts from hooker to the halves to make way for returning number nine James Segeyaro.
With the band back together, I’m tipping a Panthers victory. Tip: Panthers by 10.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.