Penrith return to the venue where their recent seven match winning streak began when they head to Western Sydney Stadium on Saturday to take on the Bulldogs.
It was against Parramatta way back on May 23 that Penrith’s season, then flat on the canvas, had life breathed into it, and over the ensuing couple of months Ivan Cleary’s side would – against all odds – get themselves back into Finals contention.
Unfortunately the Panthers fell into some old habits against Canberra last weekend, with their attack less than impressive against a Raiders side that Ricky Stuart has perfectly placed for a tilt at the premiership this year.
While Penrith were on the wrong side of a few 50/50 calls, Canberra simply had their measure for the majority of the contest and never looked like losing.
With the pressure of extending their winning streak now out of the way, the Panthers head to Parramatta to take on a Canterbury side that is heading towards the end of a long, hard season.
Dean Pay’s team proved last week however they are no easybeats, only falling by eight points to one of the competition heavyweights in the shape of the Roosters.
The week prior they surrendered meekly to Brisbane while before that they beat the Knights in Newcastle. Here is a side that can turn it on when everything clicks, but days like that have been few and far between this season. The Dogs simply don’t have the cattle to be as consistent as is required to be competing in September, as their position on the ladder reflects.
One thing you can probably expect this Saturday is plenty of points, given these two sides have missed more tackles than anyone else in the competition this season. Penrith holds that questionable honour with 710 missed tackles so far this year, while the Bulldogs sit in second place with 655. Add in the fact that Penrith give away more penalties than anyone else in the competition and the door is certainly open for the Bulldogs to spoil Penrith’s Finals party.
But something the stats don’t show is effort and enthusiasm, and Penrith have had plenty of that during their last eight matches.
Even against Canberra last week there was a feeling they’d stepped up considerably from where they were in the opening few months of the season.
Ivan Cleary has stuck solid with the 17 players who took the field against the Raiders last weekend, while the Bulldogs have also resisted making any changes, Pay happy to reward the side that pushed the defending champions all the way at ANZ Stadium last Sunday.
This match marks the first time Dallin Watene-Zelezniak comes up against the Panthers, while Corey Harawira-Naera also fronts his old club, adding an extra bit of spice to the contest.
Penrith’s loss to the Raiders is forgivable in the context of where the two sides currently sit and the fact that the old adage – you have to lose eventually – was always going to come into play at some stage.
A loss against Canterbury, however, will be far from acceptable if the Panthers want to play Finals football.
These are the games they simply need to win, especially at a neutral venue.
Tip: Panthers by 10.
Penrith and Canterbury play on Saturday, August 3 at 5.30pm at Bankwest 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.