Battle of the big cats

Bryce Cartwright. Photo: Megan Dunn
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Round 23 really couldn’t have played out much better for the Penrith Panthers.

The Tigers losing to the Titans, the Rabbitohs upsetting the Warriors and the Panthers themselves demolishing Newcastle is exactly what the doctor ordered.

It sets the Panthers up to play finals football and in the process lines up a blockbuster Friday Night Football clash against the Wests Tigers at Pepper Stadium.

Penrith can all but confirm their spot in the finals if they beat the Tigers while Jason Taylor’s men will find it very difficult to play in the post-season if they don’t get the two competition points at Pepper Stadium. It sets up a battle that should go down to the wire and is likely to feature plenty of points.

Tigers fans and neutral viewers will be disappointed to hear that James Tedesco’s broken jaw will keep him out of this game, as well as the rest of the season, but Panthers fans are most likely thanking the rugby league Gods for a little bit of luck going their way.

Penrith welcomed back Reagan Campbell-Gillard from injury last weekend and he’ll be much better for the run – it’s important he is fit coming into the final few games of the season especially considering his front row partner Sam McKendry won’t be back this year.

The scoreboard looked pretty for the Panthers against Newcastle last week but despite the 42-6 win, the performance still had plenty of holes in it.

Penrith gave away too many penalties in what was an ill-disciplined first 40 minutes and were lucky not to be behind at half-time. After the break, Matt Moylan put the Panthers in front with a superb try but then the team spilled the ball in each of the next four sets – again, they were lucky the Knights didn’t take advantage of it and get themselves back into the game.

When things clicked, however, the Panthers ignited – tries in the 55th, 59th, 65th, 70th and 80th minutes to put more salt into the Knights’ 2016 wounds.

So often this season the Panthers have produced a dynamite 20 minutes that has been enough to secure them victory, and left fans wondering why they can’t do the same for the entire 80. Certainly it will be an issue in September but for now, the Panthers are just happy they’re winning.

There is a confidence about this Penrith team they probably don’t deserve to have, but that’s youth for you.

In the stands, we take this footy caper pretty seriously.

But for the likes of Bryce Cartwright, Nathan Cleary, Leilani Latu and co, they’re just having fun.

Don’t get me wrong – they know there’s a serious side to the 80 minutes of football each week, but as a young group that is slowly being thrust into the spotlight, they’re handling things in the only way they know how.

With Luke Brooks likely to return, the Tigers certainly won’t put the white flag up like the Knights did last weekend, even with Tedesco out.

If the Panthers are a little more patient, a lot more disciplined and hold the ball, they should walk away from this one with finals footy in their back pocket.

Tip: Panthers by 8.

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