After hitting rock bottom, Panthers begin process of resurgence

Panthers forward Tim Grant. Photo: Megan Dunn
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There are many words that could be used to describe Penrith’s performance against the Wests Tigers last Friday. Most of them are unprintable.

It was a rock-bottom effort from a side that had everything to play for. That opening 20 minutes was not befitting of the pride that should come with wearing the Penrith jersey and there is no question the players need to do some soul searching to find why they lacked the desire and enthusiasm that should come with representing the local community.

There are a number of members of the playing group who should be ashamed with the efforts they’re producing on the field this season. It needs to change, and it needs to change quickly.

The man tasked with leading a resurgence is coach Ivan Cleary. This week, he started the process by making a number of changes to his team to take on the Warriors on Friday night.

Dylan Edwards is back at fullback and certainly deserves his shot at redemption after a poor start to the season where he simply couldn’t regain his confidence.

Nathan Cleary in action against the Tigers last week. Photo: Megan Dunn

The axing of Josh Mansour and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, once thought unthinkable, shows just how seriously Cleary is taking the situation at present. Both have been desperately out of form.

The return of Waqa Blake from disciplinary action will be important against the Warriors. Replacing the usually reliable Blake with Tyrell Fuimaono last Friday proved disastrous and was a further disruption to a Penrith backline that has been unable to settle for most of the season.

But a backline can only fire when the forwards are doing their job and that’s just not happening for Penrith at the moment. Campbell-Gillard, who was being talked up as one of the most damaging forwards in the game last year, ran for just 70 metres last Friday night while not one player in the pack clocked up more than 100 metres.

Meantime, five Wests Tigers forwards ran more than 100 metres – proving just how dominant they were over a Penrith pack that is being consistently outplayed week after week.

The Warriors, despite their erratic form, proved their resilience when coming back to beat the Dragons at Magic Round last weekend. They are particularly dangerous on the edges, which is a concern for Penrith given how easily the Tigers exposed Penrith’s edge defence last weekend.

Stephen Kearney’s side missed a whopping 38 tackles last weekend and broke almost half the tackles compared to what the Dragons offered, but they won the match with a superior completion rate (a very strong 91 per cent) and they’ll again be looking to limit the mistakes against Penrith, knowing that the points will come eventually as long as they are patient.

Photo: Megan Dunn

For Penrith, it’s simply a matter of finding some heart. Ivan Cleary needs to find whatever it is that will make this group of players tick and start playing with the desire that should have been there from the first moment of the pre-season.

I wanted to tip the Warriors all week, but I have a feeling that after falling to rock bottom last weekend, the Panthers will pick themselves up and scrap their way to a win. I doubt it’ll be pretty, but right now, we’ll take what we can get.

Tip: Panthers by 4.

The Panthers and Warriors play at Panthers Stadium on Friday, May 17 at 6pm. 

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