Panthers look to extend winning run to double digits

Viliame Kikau in action against the Warriors. Photo: NRL Images.
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Of the almost 600 players to have worn the Panthers jersey since 1967, only a select few know what it feels like to win nine straight games.

And when you consider injuries and team changes during any winning run, the likelihood of any individual experiencing it during an NRL career is exceptionally rare.

The players who celebrated a new club milestone last Friday night at Central Coast Stadium by winning their ninth straight game have created a slice of history, and now have the opportunity to achieve even more.

Of the 596 players to wear the Penrith jersey, just 34 know what it feels like to win a Grand Final in Panthers colours. 17 more may experience it come the last weekend of October – something that is becoming more and more possible, even probable, by the week.

This week Penrith face a Cronulla side that hasn’t beaten a top eight team all season, giving Ivan Cleary’s men faith that they can extend this run into double digits – particularly given the game is at Panthers Stadium, a venue where they haven’t tasted defeat since July 28 last year. In fact, the Panthers have only lost two home games since mid-May 2019, and that includes a run of matches at Campbelltown Stadium and Kogarah Oval during COVID-19 restrictions.

Tyrone May looks for an opportunity. Photo: NRL Images.

The Sharks may sit in seventh spot on the ladder but it’s been far from an impressive season from John Morris’ men. They struggled to put away the Titans last weekend, while they were lucky to escape with victory over the basket case that is Brisbane three weeks ago. In the middle of those games they had a narrow loss to Parramatta in atrocious conditions, so not much can be read from that match.

Cronulla, like many teams sitting mid-table, beat the teams they’re supposed to beat but can’t rise to the occasion when it comes to the bigger games. We saw that first hand back in early July when the Panthers whacked the Sharks at Kogarah – a game best remembered for Charlie Staines’ four tries on debut.

The Panthers suffocated Cronulla out of that contest and they’ll take a similar approach into Friday night’s twilight game. Penrith know that if they can frustrate the Sharks early, the errors will most likely follow and a weight of possession should ensure the home side can find a good lead, and defend it as they have done so often this season.

James Fisher-Harris takes a run for Penrith. Photo: NRL Images.

The only thing that could possibly throw Penrith off course is Cronulla grabbing an early try – coming from behind is not something the Panthers have had to do all that often this season, so it’d be interesting to see how the side would respond if put in such a predicament.

While the Sharks have plenty of talent across the field, the likes of Viliame Kikau and James Fisher-Harris will lead a forward assault for Penrith that should lay the platform for Nathan Cleary to work his magic closer to the line.

After a few quiet weeks, Kikau was more involved against the Warriors and appears on the verge of a big game, while Fisher-Harris is as consistent as an old car that starts every time – he just does the job, no matter what’s put in front of him.

Viliame Kikau makes a tackle. Photo: NRL Images.

Expect Brian To’o to be a late inclusion and add some flair out wide, too.

I can’t see Penrith getting beaten here – not with Cronulla’s record against top eight teams and the Panthers’ current confidence levels.
Keep the history coming, boys.

Tip: Panthers by 14.

The Panthers and Sharks play at Panthers Stadium on Friday, August 21 at 6pm.

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