While we shouldn’t be getting too carried away with Penrith’s 38-18 win over a depleted Sydney Roosters side on Monday night, the one key thing to take out of the game is that the team now controls its own destiny.
Heading into the final month of the regular season, the Panthers sit in seventh spot on the ladder and a finals spot is theirs to lose.
If Penrith wants to make any sort of impact in the post-season, they need to be winning matches like this Sunday’s encounter with the struggling Newcastle Knights.
The Knights haven’t won since back in April (an 18-16 victory over the Wests Tigers), and while they’ve had the season from hell, there’s been signs in recent weeks that they’re starting to play some football their fans can be proud of.
After a golden point tussle with Canberra back in round 17, they only narrowly went down to the competition leading Melbourne Storm, before faltering against the Sharks and then putting up brave efforts against Manly and Canterbury.
This is an ordinary Knights outfit but by no means are they easybeats this weekend.
What was most pleasing about Monday night’s effort from the Panthers was the tries they scored. From all over the park, the Panthers created and then executed opportunities and had it not been for a bit of bad luck, probably would have crossed the line a few more times too.
The Panthers are starting to gel with Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Cleary in the halves and while Cartwright’s move back to the forwards is inevitable, Anthony Griffin would most likely find it difficult to change a winning formula now, even with Te Maire Martin waiting in reserve grade having recovered from a shoulder injury.
Cartwright was a little more patient on Monday night, though he still seems to panic at crucial moments, which could be critical if this Sunday’s game goes down to the wire.
The Panthers are good enough to ensure a close game is not on the menu this weekend but they need to treat Newcastle with respect. A lapse in concentration or a moment of complacency could well turn the match on its head and the Knights showed early in the second half against the Bulldogs last weekend that they can score points quickly when the opportunity presents itself.
If all goes to plan, this is a game the Panthers could win by 20 or 30 points. But constantly during 2016, the plan has been thrown out the window. That’s why so many Panthers fans this week have expressed huge concern ahead of the trip up the M1; concerned that the good work against the Roosters will be undone by a lazy performance against the competition’s cellar dwellers.
Concerns aside, the Panthers have the cattle to put a big score on the Knights and after their best month of football this season, I’m confident the side can get the job done and set up a blockbuster against the Wests Tigers next week at Pepper Stadium.
Tip: Panthers by 16.
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.