Penrith make a rare trip to Central Coast Stadium on Friday to take on a Warriors side that has posted back to back victories for the first time this season and, against all the odds, is within reach of playing Finals football.
The Panthers are on a winning run of their own, securing an eighth straight victory last Saturday night over Canberra and putting themselves 80 minutes away from a club record ninth straight win.
This Penrith side just doesn’t look like losing at the moment, and while the Warriors’ efforts over the past fortnight cannot be denied, it’s hard to see them stopping this runaway train being driven by Ivan Cleary.
Penrith’s impenetrable first quarter defence was on display again against Canberra and probably experienced its toughest test with the Raiders camped on the Panthers’ line for the opening 10 minutes of the game.
It has been such a key component of Penrith’s success – shut sides out early, frustrate them into making errors and grab a few tries of your own. From there, defend the lead. Rinse and repeat.
Anyone who doubted Penrith’s capability to win this premiership has been silenced in recent weeks, but the fear of peaking too early still remains. There’s seven games left in the regular season and Cleary’s challenge now is how he guides this side through a reasonably good draw without complacency settling in, and how he gets the side to respond when that loss inevitably does come.
The Warriors are a side that can beat anybody on their day and they don’t need an invitation to throw plenty at you if they’re switched on, but history would suggest three wins in a row may be beyond them.
With enforcer Jack Hetherington out of this game (first by choice, then by suspension), they’ve lost one of their most potent weapons from their recent run of good form. With plenty to prove, Hetherington has added some spark to the Warriors’ go-forward and it’ll be significantly missed on Friday night.
For Penrith, very little needs to change given how well the formula is working at present. Nathan Cleary is in tremendous form leading this Penrith orchestra, but there’s hardly a player not impressing in a Penrith jumper at present. This is a side playing more cohesively than any Penrith side has in the past 15 years, and they’re doing it with some key outs – fullback Dylan Edwards included, although he is a chance of being a late inclusion for this one after being named on an extended bench.
While a few predicted showers may limit opportunities in some cases, I’m still expecting a high scoring game here.
The Warriors can easily score 20 points in a match, which means the Panthers will need at least four or five tries to ensure they grab the two competition points and that club record.
I’m very confident of victory here – there’s a chance for these 2020 Panthers, now being compared to the premiership side of 2003, to write their own slice of history with nine straight wins, and I doubt they’ll let the opportunity slide.
Tip: Panthers by 12.
The Panthers and Warriors play at Central Coast Stadium on Friday, August 14 at 6pm.
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.