Panthers look to finish season on a high

Reagan Campbell-Gillard in action against the Roosters. Photo: Megan Dunn
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Penrith’s sorry season comes to an end on Sunday afternoon when Ivan Cleary’s side faces Newcastle in what will ultimately prove to be the closing of a chapter for many associated with both of these clubs.

James Maloney will play his final game in Penrith colours, while it could also be the end for Reagan Campbell-Gillard, with the drums beating louder and louder that he’ll be elsewhere in 2020.

The match also offers coach Ivan Cleary the opportunity to start focusing on next year after somewhat of a mini re-build was ordered mid-season, with the likes of Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak moved on, and a host of rookies blooded.

Cleary will surely be looking forward to a settled off-season – a far cry from what he faced last year – with a focus on building a team that can be competitive in 2020 and doesn’t have to go through a complete re-restructure.

Meanwhile, the Knights also have their eyes set on what the future holds after a tumultuous couple of weeks that resulted in Nathan Brown’s departure as coach and the club’s management being brought into serious question.

Viliame Kikau scores a try against the Roosters. Photo: Megan Dunn

With one eye on March next year, these two sides will do battle in a game that means little other than finishing their respective seasons on a high and working out spots in the bottom half of the ladder.

The Knights were great against the lowly Titans last weekend, while the Panthers again failed to convert opportunities against a Roosters side that was simply too good on the day and is on its way to bigger and better things through September.

However, Penrith performed admirably against the defending champions and were far from embarrassed, not delivering the capitulation many expected.

Truth be told this match is between the 2019 season’s greatest under-achievers.

You look at the squads both of these teams started the season with and you question how they could possibly miss the Finals.

James Fisher-Harris. Photo: Megan Dunn

Both teams have exciting fullbacks, high quality Origin-level halfbacks and a solid mix of experience and youth up front, but haven’t been able to put together a complete season of high standard football.

There’s a chance in this game for both teams to show their fans what may wait in 2020, and prove that 2019 was simply a slip-up on the path to better things.

I’m expecting a high scoring encounter, that is likely to go from end-to-end for much of the 80 minutes.

The team that eventually does get on top through the middle will win, and that’ll most likely come mid-way through the second half. With the end of the season in sight, it’ll be the team that still has some belief in themselves that will go the extra level to get the two competition points.

James Maloney plays his last game on Sunday. Photo: Megan Dunn

While Mad Monday beckons, we can only hope that the Panthers still have plenty to prove over the final 80 minutes of their season. Whether it’s holding on to their position for 2020, wanting to farewell Jimmy Maloney in style or simply proving something to themselves, the players need to approach this game like it means something – and they need to do it for the fans, who have put up with so much this season both on and off the field.

I think Penrith can turn it on one final time this year, especially at home, but it’ll be far from a walk in the park.

Tip: Panthers by 8.

The Panthers and Knights will play on Sunday, September 8 at 4.05pm at Panthers Stadium.

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