The last two weeks would have been agonising for Penrith coach Anthony Griffin and his players.
When you produce a performance as poor as what the Panthers did against Gold Coast in Round 11, the first thing you want to do is get back out on the field and apply a bit of course correction.
The scoreboard showed a tight game against the Titans but the truth is it was a performance that is best forgotten. A team considered a premiership chance should not be dropping games like that mid-way through the season.
With that game behind them, the Panthers face one of the toughest road trips in the NRL – a visit to AAMI Park to take on the Melbourne Storm.
Penrith’s efforts against the Storm in recent years haven’t been too bad, but the fact remains that they are Penrith’s bogey team. The Panthers have won just 23.3 per cent of their all-time matches against Melbourne, their lowest winning percentage against any team in the NRL.
That’s just seven wins from 30 matches, and while history does not always govern the future, there is no doubt that it is an added pressure on the Panthers this week.
Origin does play a role in this game with Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy not naming Queensland stars Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in his side for Saturday night’s contest. However, if they back-up OK from Wednesday night’s match, expect them to be late inclusions.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has named both Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour to back-up but has players on stand-by should all not go to plan.
The Panthers have shown this year that they can match it with the league’s best teams, coming from behind to beat the Broncos, almost grabbing victory over the Sharks and taking the Cowboys to the last few minutes.
On paper, the Panthers have the team to take down the high flying Storm on Saturday night. However, one thing that has let the Panthers down this season is their inability to control the game. On too many occasions they have allowed their opposition to dictate the terms of the match and while they’ve still often been able to claim victory, it has resulted in far too many close games – and you’re simply not going to win all of them when you’re inviting your opponents to steal the points.
Melbourne love controlling games. They love getting down and dirty in the wrestle, they love making the most of a kick to touch and they command field position better than any side in the competition.
The Panthers need to find a way to take control away from the Storm, and a strong start will be the first step. If the Panthers are 12-0 down after 15 or 20 minutes, the game will be as good as gone.
With Peta Hiku and Dean Whare both out for the season, Griffin has named Waqa Blake and Isaah Yeo in the centres for the game, while Tyrone Peachey partners Jamie Soward in the halves.
The most talked about team news of the week was the demotion of hooker James Segeyaro, with Peter Wallace to now wear the number 9 jersey permanently.
I smell another close contest.
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.