How good is footy?
All of a sudden, Penrith fans are on top of the world after Ivan Cleary’s side recorded its third straight win last weekend, a 19-10 toppling of defending champions the Roosters.
Forget that Trent Robinson’s outfit was without a host of big names – last Sunday’s game wasn’t about the under-strength Roosters, it was about the tenacity and enthusiasm Penrith played with, something that was lacking in the first few months of the season.
Cleary now has his side humming along and sitting just two points outside the top eight. The Finals door is far from being open, but it’s safe to say it has been unlocked and the Panthers have a chance of re-writing history if they keep up their winning ways.
The Panthers are benefiting from the tightness of the competition outside of the top four, and it’s quite possible that 28 points, or even 26, will get you into the top eight this year, which keeps the Finals flame alive for Penrith.
After getting through the daunting task of facing the Roosters last weekend, the tough encounters keep coming with Penrith facing Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs this Saturday evening at ANZ Stadium.
Souths started the season well but have the wobbles at the moment, beaten by the Eels and Knights in their last two matches as the Origin period starts to bite. Things have also been made more difficult for the Rabbitohs with Sam Burgess undergoing shoulder surgery this week and facing a stint on the sidelines, and Adam Reynolds remaining out with a back problem.
Souths, who sit second on the ladder, were out-enthused by the Knights last Friday night and never looked in the contest, but you can never under-estimate a Wayne Bennett coached team.
The halves battle in this one will be intriguing, with Bennett naming Cody Walker and Adam Doueihi to guide his team around the park against Nathan Cleary and James Maloney, who may well be packing their bags for Perth on Sunday with a solid performance here potentially locking down their reunion in Blues colours for Origin II.
That said, Walker has a point to prove after a disappointing effort in Origin I, and is fighting for his representative future against the Panthers, which could bring out the best in him.
Penrith continue to have vulnerabilities on the edges (which certainly brings the likes of Dane Gagai and James Roberts into play) but I’d expect the Rabbitohs to try to do the business up the middle in this one.
Souths have more line engagements than any other team in the competition and also lead the NRL in line breaks, so you can expect them to try to tire Penrith’s forward pack and expose their opposition’s ill-discipline, which sees Penrith still leading the competition in penalties conceded.
All of the stats point to a Souths win this weekend, but those stats are irrelevant when you consider the form of both these teams in the last fortnight, which is surely the most important factor leading into Saturday evening.
Penrith have some much-needed momentum at the moment and I think they can get over a depleted Souths side that looks desperate for rep round and an upcoming bye.
Tip: Panthers by 6.
Penrith and Souths play on Saturday, June 15 at 5.30pm at ANZ Stadium.
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.