Panthers captain and two-time Premiership winner James Maloney is confident his side can go deep into the Finals, if they play to their potential.
Penrith’s first assignment is an Elimination Final against the New Zealand Warriors this Saturday evening at ANZ Stadium. The Panthers were thrashed a matter of weeks ago by the Warriors in Auckland but the stakes are a lot higher now according to Maloney.
“It’s a different competition… I have no doubt with the team we’ve got, that if we play our best, we’ll beat anyone,” he said.
“We’ll have a good week at training, prepare well and, if we play our best footy, then the result will take care of itself.”
Despite a rocky final few weeks of the regular season, the Panthers were back to their best last Friday night, defeating the Storm in Melbourne for the first time since 2005.
Maloney said the 22-16 win over the Storm was a huge confidence builder heading into the opening week of the Finals.
“It’s a good platform to go into a semi-final, that was the aim of going down to Melbourne,” he said.
“The aim was to make sure we come out of that game with the confidence we needed to play our best game this week.
“I think that was a good springboard for that… there’s no excuses for us not to be playing our best on Saturday.”
Penrith’s opponents, New Zealand, finished the year in eighth spot and haven’t played Finals footy since finishing runners-up in the 2011 NRL Grand Final.
With the Panthers appearing in four of the last five Finals series’, Maloney said that should give his side the edge this weekend.
“I think guys that have been there and played a few times, all that experience helps. They’ll know what’s coming and know what to expect,” he said.
“It takes the edge off the uncertainty of not being there, and we’ll go into the game full of confidence.”
In terms of Finals experience, there’s not many as credentialed as James Maloney. The 32-year-old has played in eight of the last nine Finals Series’ with four different teams.
Maloney said he’s feeling refreshed and as healthy as can be after a short spell on the sideline in recent weeks.
“The two weeks off was really good for me,” he said.
“It just settled everything down and freshened me up for this time of year. I’m feeling really good.”
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.