There’s plenty of critics who want to tell you the Panthers aren’t the real deal in this NRL competition, and that Ivan Cleary’s side will be found out when they meet the likes of the Roosters and Melbourne at the pointy end of the season.
Those critics claim they aren’t convinced by Penrith; that they don’t have the experience to win the big games when it really counts. That boys will not take down men.
But how could you not be convinced by a side that only suffered one loss all season, finished the year with the best differential of the competition and conceded just 238 points – the best in the league? How could you not be convinced by a side that finished the regular season an extraordinary five points clear of the field, and that tops the competition in completion rates, possession, run metres, kick return metres, and 40/20 kicks?
It seems to me you’d have to get your rugby league brain checked if you weren’t convinced by this side given what the numbers say. More importantly, this is a side full of players in career-defining form, creating the most close-knit bond you’ll find anywhere in the NRL.
Sure, the Roosters are formidable opponent. The likes of James Tedesco, Daniel Tupou, Luke Keary and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are made for these big games, and Trent Robinson will go down as one of our game’s greatest ever coaches.
But reputation does not always equal results.
The Roosters may be the benchmark for many, but why are those pundits so convinced?
After all, the Roosters have only beaten one other top four side this season –Parramatta – and dropped games to fifth and sixth placed Canberra and Souths.
Suggesting this record-breaking Penrith team will simply fall over and concede to their much more fancied opponents would be not giving the Panthers enough credit for the incredible resilience they have built this year.
This is a side that hasn’t conceded more than two tries in a game since way back in round 11, and has kept their opponents tryless in two of their last three games.
Meantime, the Roosters come into this game on the back of a 60-8 thrashing at the hands of the Rabbitohs.
Even if the defeat did see the Roosters avoid an unwanted road trip to Brisbane, the enormity of the loss has left the side vulnerable and would have had a significant mental impact on the playing group. All of a sudden, this Roosters team needs to prove something that is normally just a given, and that’s not a position Trent Robinson’s side has been in often.
Penrith have been waiting for the Finals for more than a month now – never losing their concentration as they marched through the final rounds of the competition with all the required arrogance and confidence of a team on the hunt for a trophy. Losing just wasn’t an option, even when those aforementioned critics argued they needed to have one.
If the Panthers get themselves in front this Friday night, it’s hard to see them being run down. Their tenacity and attitude in defence has just been too strong this year.
I’m expecting a tough forward battle in the first half, but in the end Penrith should grab the momentum and get the job done.
Tip: Panthers by 10.
The Panthers and Roosters meet on Friday, October 2 7.50pm at Panthers 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.