They say statistics tell the story of a rugby league team’s fortunes and while there’s always evidence to defy what’s written on paper, the numbers do give you a general idea of what’s happening – or not happening – on the field.
And the numbers tell a slightly concerning story about a Penrith side that despite all the pre-season hype, has now won just two of its opening six games.
After six rounds the Panthers are third in penalties conceded, fourth in errors, fourth in missed tackles, 11th in kick return metres and last in total kicks.
It paints a picture of a footy side that struggles to build momentum and pressure in matches. Possession is not Penrith’s issue – they actually had more of the footy than the Rabbitohs and Storm but still lost those games – it’s moreso what impact the side has with the football when they’ve got it.
In short, the Panthers have plenty of opportunities but too often fail to convert them.
Penrith is in a frustrating position – they are playing themselves into contention in every match but then aren’t sure what to do when it comes time to land the killer blow. Too often the side takes the wrong option on the last play, or pops a ball that shouldn’t be popped.
Perhaps it’s a sign of inexperience. The Panthers have been dealt their fair share of injuries this year and combined with a couple of off-field issues have struggled to field the same team consistently every week, forcing re-shuffles that probably weren’t anticipated at any stage of the pre-season.
Whatever the reason, the Panthers need to turn it around soon. We can only use the ‘it’s still early’ line for so long.
The games don’t get any easier for Penrith with this weekend’s clash against defending Premiers Cronulla coming after they knocked off Melbourne in atrocious conditions at AAMI Park. It was a war of attrition and full of errors but still a great game to watch and the Sharks showed incredible patience to eventually wrestle the competition points away and prove they still might have plenty to say about this year’s title.
It’s hard to gauge much from Penrith’s 21-20 loss to Souths last Friday night given the disruptions to the playing squad through the week but it was the defence of the side’s more established players that raised some concerns. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak missed six tackles, Dean Whare missed five and Trent Merrin missed six as well. They’re concerning stats and show how easy the Rabbitohs made metres at various stages of the game, but perhaps the players in question were guilty of trying too hard given the key men Penrith had out.
The good news for Penrith is that they are almost back to full strength this week, welcoming back Matt Moylan and Waqa Blake from reserve grade and naming Tyrone Peachey and James Fisher-Harris to return from injury. There’s also a chance Bryce Cartwright will play his first football since round 2.
The Sharks pose a huge threat but with the big names back on deck, there’s every reason the Panthers can resurrect their season this Easter Sunday.
Tip: Panthers by 7
Penrith play Cronulla at 4.00pm on Sunday, April 16 at Pepper Stadium.
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.