Like most long-time Penrith supporters, I’ve sat through some pretty dour and disappointing years at Panthers Stadium.
The premiership hangovers, the wooden spoon seasons, the years where nothing went right – they were all hard to take. And while there’s certainly been worse seasons, 2019 is emerging as one that is increasingly becoming harder and harder to stomach.
Penrith’s current position on the ladder reflects a sad reality – there’s 15 other clubs trying harder.
Some of those clubs, like the Bulldogs, don’t have the roster to compete for Finals football but are still turning up for each other and their fans every week. Others, like Manly and Newcastle, are defying the predictions of many and currently sit in the top eight.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are the NRL’s biggest disappointment. Coach Ivan Cleary simply isn’t getting anything out of his players, and the team is spluttering towards one of their worst seasons in more than a decade.
Cleary knows he has a problem to fix but where to start is the biggest issue.
In attack, Penrith look like a bad reserve grade side full of part-time footballers, unable to execute any decent play than an opposition would find hard to stop. The team has scored just 127 points in total this season – an epic disgrace that should have the current halves combination hanging their heads in shame, given how much time they spend in the opposition 20.
In defence, the side has conceded 240 points this season (more than any other side in the competition) and at times just seems lazy – as the Issac Luke try to the Warriors in the first half last week showed.
James Maloney is becoming more and more of a liability, missing nine tackles last weekend while those around him over-compensate to try to plug the hole.
A suspension to Maloney will see Jarome Luai get his shot at five-eighth against the Eels and it’ll be interesting to watch how that unfolds given he could be handed the jumper permanently sooner rather than later.
Perhaps the biggest concern at the moment is that Ivan Cleary doesn’t appear to have the answers, and if he does, he’s certainly not willing to share them with the fans or partners.
While his disappointment with where the side is at was obvious in his press conference following the clash with the Warriors last Friday night, he appears to be like a deer in the headlights – unsure what to do next given the changes he’s implemented so far this season have failed to garner results.
To make matters worse, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is out of the side this week.
But Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Josh Mansour do return after their week in reserve grade, hopefully with some lessons learned.
The Panthers make their first ever trip to Western Sydney Stadium and they face an Eels side desperate to get back into the winner’s circle after two straight losses, including a thumping at the hands of Melbourne and a narrow defeat to North Queensland in Townsville last weekend.
Usually, this ‘battle of the west’ would have everyone talking, but with Parramatta’s recent form, Penrith’s awful start to the year and a difficult Thursday night timeslot, this match will most likely slip under most people’s radar.
I simply can’t tip Penrith at the moment. They’ve done nothing over the past month to suggest they’re improving.
Tip: Eels by 10.
Penrith and Parramatta play at Western Sydney Stadium on Thursday, May 23 at 7.50pm.
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.