Panthers look to go back to back for first time in 2019

The Panthers celebrate a try last season. Photo: Megan Dunn
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When you’re sitting last on the ladder and come into a game on the back of six straight losses, it doesn’t really matter how you win – you just need the two competition points.

That was certainly the mindset Penrith had last Thursday night as they gritted their way to a 16-10 win over arch rivals Parramatta to chalk up a victory on their first trip to Bankwest Stadium.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves – the Eels were very poor, and Penrith still struggled to execute the right plays when given opportunities close to the line. But you can’t fault the side’s defence, which held strong particularly towards the end of the game when the Eels looked almost certain to score.

Penrith played with an enthusiasm and spark that has been missing for much of the year, and while there’s still a lot of work to do before this side is playing at its potential, the win was the confidence-booster Ivan Cleary’s men desperately needed.

This week’s game against Manly is a case of mixed fortunes for Penrith. Isaah Yeo returns from a shoulder injury and James Maloney is back from suspension, but there’s no Nathan Cleary due to Origin commitments while the team is decimated in the centres with both Dean Whare and Waqa Blake suffering long-term injuries against the Eels.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Photo: Megan Dunn

The halves shouldn’t be too much of a concern – Maloney will run the show while Luai, who continues to gain valuable first grade experience while he waits in the wings for a permanent spot, will have the freedom to search for flaws in Manly’s defensive line. The big worry is the centres – Cleary has been forced to name Yeo and rookie Brent Naden as Whare and Blake’s replacements, and it’ll certainly make Penrith more vulnerable on the edges.

Cleary would be disappointed with the service he’s getting from Sione Katoa at hooker at the moment and this will be a headache he’ll have moving forward, with no standout number nine coming through the ranks and not a lot on offer in the open market either.

He can only keep working with Katoa to improve his game – in both attack and defence – and try to mould him into a smarter footballer.
Manly would be shattered by their performance against the Gold Coast last week, especially after holding a commanding lead early in the game.

Needs improvement: Sione Katoa. Photo: Megan Dunn

In the end, a disappointing completion rate (69 per cent) and having just 43 per cent of the ball proved too much for Des Hasler’s men, who have somewhat over-achieved this season but will look at last Friday’s game as one that got away.

The Sea Eagles are without a host of key players including Daly Cherry-Evans, who goes straight from the injured list to representative duties.
Manly’s backline appears weak, but its forward pack is strong.

This clash at Panthers Stadium could go either way – both sides are without their halfback, there’s injuries aplenty across the park and neither outfit has proven themselves worthy of favouritism status.

I’m expecting a close game with a breakout moment late in the contest to decide it. With the likes of Yeo and Viliame Kikau on the park, I feel Penrith are more likely to deliver such a moment.

Tip: Panthers by 6.

Penrith and Manly play at Panthers Stadium on Thursday, May 30 at 7.50pm.

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