The ‘season so far’ for both Penrith and Canterbury reads strikingly similar, so it’s probably no surprise to see them sitting side by side on 10 competition points heading into this Sunday afternoon’s clash at ANZ Stadium.
Like the Panthers, the Bulldogs have notched up wins when they were needed most but have failed to find consistency, leaving a frustrated fan base to ponder what the second half of the season will bring, knowing it could go either way.
As we reflect on the opening 12 rounds of the competition, it’s safe to say the Bulldogs have fared a little better than Penrith. While they were hammered 36-0 by Manly back in Round 4 and couldn’t keep up with the Cowboys a few weeks ago, there’s been some positive signs in a lot of their losses.
They’ve played the high flying Roosters twice, going down by four and six points, and managed to hold Melbourne to 12 points back in the opening round, losing by just a converted try. Last Saturday night they well could have upset Cronulla at Shark Park, but fell to a late field goal.
They’ve also had some impressive wins, including their 10-7 victory over Brisbane back in Round 5, and a tough 16-10 win over Canberra at ANZ Stadium.
Penrith too can tell plenty of ‘almost’ stories, including close late losses to the Roosters and Rabbitohs, but have been outplayed in too many games for most fans’ liking.
While the Panthers have finally won back to back games and look to be back in contention for a Finals spot, there’s two glaring issues that stand out.
The first is that the sides they’ve beaten this year are currently running 13th, 15th and 16th on the ladder. You can only play what’s in front of you, but it hardly offers confidence about the results to come.
The other issue is pretty obvious – first halves. Penrith has only scored one first half try in the last five weeks, and has been completely outplayed in the opening 40 minutes. In all but one of those games, they fought back to either make the scoreline respectable or produce an unlikely victory, but it’s still far from good enough.
Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has had to deal with some selection headaches this week with both Bryce Cartwright and Peter Wallace missing through injury, but thankfully Josh Mansour finally makes his return and will certainly add some much-needed grunt and power to the backline. Penrith has missed his kick returns enormously this year.
Mitch Rein gets his opportunity to play first grade at Penrith in place of Wallace, while Griffin has switched Matt Moylan to five-eighth, a natural progression for the skipper and one that has probably come a little earlier than most expected.
This will be a tough contest and while I’m tipping the Panthers will be much better in the first half this week, I still think they might be behind at the break.
In the end though, they should have too much attacking flair for a Bulldogs side that too often goes into its shell when the bounce of the ball doesn’t go their way.
The weekend off should also give Penrith an advantage, especially after Canterbury’s grinding affair with Cronulla last weekend.
Tip: Panthers by 4
Penrith and Canterbury play at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, June 4 from 4.00pm.
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.