The equation facing the Panthers is rather simple: win three of the remaining five games, and finals football beckons.
On paper, the task seems quite achievable – Penrith face just one side currently in the top eight on their journey home and play three of their remaining matches at Pepper Stadium.
The Panthers probably should have beaten the Warriors in Auckland last Saturday but lacked patience and composure throughout the contest and just couldn’t click into the gear needed to overpower the opposition.
The possible return of Te Maire Martin this weekend won’t necessarily add any much-needed experience to the Penrith outfit but it will allow Bryce Cartwright to move back into the back row where he belongs – he has put in a fine effort at five-eighth in recent weeks but I think most Penrith fans can admit the halves aren’t really his go.
The Panthers have already beaten the Roosters once this season on a cold and wet Monday night at Allianz Stadium, and face the prospect of similar conditions this Monday at Penrith.
Back then the Roosters were without chief playmaker Mitchell Pearce and while he has since returned to guide the side around the park, the fortunes of the Roosters haven’t turned around all that much – they sit second last on the ladder with their post-season trip already booked for early September.
The Roosters did however show what they’re capable of last Thursday by overpowering an out-of-form Brisbane, scoring some sensational tries in the process. The performance certainly sounded a warning siren to the Panthers and after last week’s heartbreaking slip-up in Auckland, there is no doubt Anthony Griffin will have to re-focus his men with a ‘one game at a time’ attitude crucial given where Penrith’s precarious finals chances sit.
The message for Penrith should be somewhat similar to last week – patience. Too often against the Warriors the Panthers kicked early in the tackle count or tried to produce a miracle play close to the line that was never really on. It is a sign of a young and somewhat immature footy side but it’s up to the more experienced campaigners like Matt Moylan, Trent Merrin and Peter Wallace to keep the younger brigade calm.
While forwards tend to dictate games, it’ll be exciting to watch both backlines in action on Monday night.
Josh Mansour is a machine at the moment – 266 metres last week, two line breaks and two tries – while Tyrone Peachey seems more at home at centre than any other position on the field. For the Roosters, Blake Ferguson and Daniel Tupou are the obvious danger men while Dale Copley had a superb game last week.
This is a game the Panthers should win and most experts would chalk this up as one of the three matches the Panthers need to collect on their path to September. But with such a young squad and inconsistency being the name of Penrith’s game all season, it’s a danger match.
If Penrith can start as well as they did against Brisbane a fortnight ago and not be forced into chasing points, they should do enough to get home.
Tip: Panthers by 12.
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.