Penrith face an enormous test this Saturday night when Johnathan Thurston and his premiership-winning Cowboys ride into Pepper Stadium.
While the Panthers have already faced some tough opponents this season in the shape of premiership contenders Canterbury, Brisbane and Parramatta, there is no team in better form at the moment than JT’s Cowboys.
Importantly, however, the Panthers are playing really tough, gritty football at the moment and will provide the Cowboys with a test of their own.
They’re refusing to give up, and while that has unfortunately resulted in a couple of heartbreaking finishes, it’s also landed two against-the-odds victories.
Every Panthers fan should be proud of how the side came back from the dead to beat Parramatta last Sunday – with the last play of the game no less.
The win was on the back of Matt Moylan’s return, with the young skipper adding the attacking flair and safety under the high ball that had been lacking over the first month of the competition.
It’s impossible to say the Panthers’ form has been up and down. In fact, it has been largely consistent. The next step is starting to dominate the middle part of matches so a game-winning lead is set up and secured long before the full-time siren. That will come with time, and experience.
There’s a few things Penrith need to work on heading into Saturday’s clash with the defending premiers.
While the side’s last tackle options were slightly better last weekend with Moylan in the team, they too often garner little result, especially when it’s a bomb to the left winger.
It was worse against the Dragons but even against Parramatta it threatened to be the Panthers’ downfall.
Defence also needs to be tightened up – the Panthers miss more tackles than any other side in the competition and an attacking powerhouse like the Cowboys could really expose that on Saturday night.
Personally I think Elijah Taylor being in the side and playing big minutes would go some way to fixing that but it’s quite clear there’s other issues at play there.
On the positive side of the fence, Moylan will be much better for the run last weekend while Josh Mansour is unquestionably Penrith’s best player at the moment – he is just eating up the metres and scoring tries to boot.
When you come up against teams like the Cowboys, it’s easy to be intimidated. But when you go through each position one by one, you start to realise that the Panthers can indeed match what the defending premiers have to offer.
While Thurston and Michael Morgan may be more dominant in the halves than Te Maire Martin and Jamie Soward, the Panthers can match the Cowboys’ backline, forward pack and bench.
The Cowboys have been in impressive form but the confidence the Panthers would have gained from last Sunday’s win would be enormous.
Some think this will be a blowout but I have a feeling Panthers fans are in for another ride on their edge of their seat.
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.