If there’s one thing every Panthers fan knows, it’s that when it comes to matches against arch rivals and western Sydney neighbours Parramatta, there’s no such thing as a trial.
And with the NRL inexplicably not scheduling a premiership match between the two clubs at Pepper Stadium this year, this Saturday night’s pre-season encounter will have plenty of extra bite.
The match gives Penrith coach Anthony Griffin the chance to put his troops through one last test before next month’s season opener against St George-Illawarra.
With a number of positions – including who will fill Josh Mansour’s vacant wing spot – still up for grabs, Griffin said Saturday night’s Battle of the West at Pepper Stadium will be more important than ever.
“There’s still some positions to be decided but, in general, it’s a good opportunity for most of those guys to get one hit-out together, and hopefully we don’t have any trouble with injury,” Griffin told the Weekender.
“If we can get 50 or 60 minutes into most of the players on Saturday night, we’ll be able to round off our preparation and get a good idea of our side going into Round 1.”
For the first time this pre-season, Penrith will unleash skipper Matt Moylan while Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin will line up in the halves.
Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey will also make their 2017 club debuts following last Friday’s All Stars event in Newcastle, while injured pair Dean Whare and Peta Hiku will continue to push their case for a spot in the backline.
“Everyone is fit and healthy at the moment and there’s a lot of competition for spots, especially in the forwards,” Griffin said.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to get out and compete on Saturday night.”
Last weekend Griffin had his first chance to test out the majority of his squad when Penrith took on Canterbury in very hot conditions at Belmore Sports Ground.
With fears the match would be called off due to the record heat, Griffin said there was little doubt the game would go ahead.
“It was hot out there but I didn’t hear any whinging or complaining from either squad or staff,” he said.
“I spoke to Des [Hasler] before the game and he was happy to play. It was obviously extremely hot during the day but that time of night it wasn’t too bad.”
Penrith’s side, made up largely of youngsters and new recruits including Mitch Rein, prevailed over the more experienced Bulldogs outfit 20-10.
“We defended well for most of the game, we let in a couple of soft tries at the end of both halves, but in general we moved pretty well in defence, I thought,” he said.
“It was good to give 31 players some time and it was good to see them uninjured.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.