From the depths of the NRL cesspit where Penrith spent the first 10 weeks of the competition, Ivan Cleary’s side has somehow risen to be equal eighth and with a legitimate shot of reaching the Finals.
If the Panthers do end up playing footy beyond Round 25, it will require a re-writing of the history books – no club has lost eight of their first 10 games and gone on to make the Finals.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
While it requires a lot more than dumb luck to win five games in a row, there is no question that Penrith’s form has been far from brilliant in their run of victories over Parramatta, Manly, the Roosters, Souths and the Warriors.
A number of those games went down to the wire and tries are still few and far between.
That said, there is no question this side is playing with plenty of confidence at the moment, something that can only be a good thing for the likes of Brent Naden and Mitch Kenny, who are riding the wave of success at present and growing in first grade maturity every time they run out.
We saw that with Naden’s incredible run to score the match-winning try against the Warriors a fortnight ago – it was an effort full of intent, confidence and attitude – proving that no matter how many big name players look for opportunities elsewhere, there is always someone coming through who will show pride in the Penrith jumper.
Friday night’s game against the Titans offers a headache to coach Cleary – halfback Nathan Cleary is only a 50/50 chance of playing, while James Maloney is surely in doubt given he’ll need to back up from the State of Origin decider.
Jarome Luai will obviously be there to help steer the ship, but Penrith need either Maloney or Cleary to play to ensure someone is there to run the show.
Regardless, a few more experienced heads need to lift to help Penrith get over the line on Friday night. I’m hoping for a big game from Dylan Edwards, who has rediscovered his confidence after a shocking start to the year but still needs to provide some breakout moments in games and some more energy from the back.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard should be hungry to prove his doubters wrong after watching the Origin series from the sidelines, and needs to have a big game against a Titans side that showed Penrith up earlier in the season.
The danger in the Gold Coast Titans is obvious – they have nothing to lose.
Sitting second last on the competition ladder and with the Finals an unrealistic dream, all that’s left now is pride, and perhaps an effort to save coach Garth Brennan’s job.
Sides in that predicament very rarely go through the back half of the season without causing a few upsets along the way, and the Titans would love nothing better than to do the double on Penrith this season especially given the many Panthers connections Brennan’s team boasts.
Dale Copley’s return from injury is a good boost for the visitors.
I’m expecting this to be a lot tighter than many are suggesting, but the home ground advantage should get Penrith home.
Tip: Panthers by 8.
Penrith and Gold Coast play at Panthers Stadium on Friday, July 12 at 6.00pm.
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.