Following the enormous highs of last Saturday afternoon’s J.J. Giltinan Shield presentation at ANZ Stadium, it was back to business for the mighty Penrith Panthers this week.
After being officially declared the best side in the competition after 20 rounds, Penrith will be the team everyone has their eyes on when the NRL Finals get underway on Friday at Panthers Stadium.
While claiming the Minor Premiership last weekend was a huge feat for the entire club, star players like Api Koroisau know there are much bigger fish to fry.
“It was a weird feeling last Saturday, the boys were really excited and proud to win the Minor Premiership but, at the same time, everyone knows the bigger picture which is this week’s game against the Roosters and every other game from here on in,” he told the Weekender today.
“Celebrations were pretty tame in the locker room after the Bulldogs game, everyone was proud of the achievement but we’re not letting it get ahead of ourselves.”
If Penrith manage to knock off the back-to-back reigning Premiers on Friday, they’ll propel themselves to a Preliminary Final berth and a well-earned week off.
A victory against the fourth-placed Roosters will also see the Panthers avoid a potential road trip to Suncorp Stadium to face the Storm in week three.
“I think everyone knows the value of winning this game, getting the week off,” Koroisau said.
“I’m pretty confident everyone in the team is focusing on each day, we’re trying to soak it all in and we’re pretty happy where we’ve ended up this year.
“But we know the job is not done and it’s one week at a time for us. It’s pretty good to see the humility some of the boys have.”
While Penrith’s opponents will have a few key bodies missing, including champion hooker Jake Friend, the Panthers will go into Friday’s big game at full strength with coach Ivan Cleary naming winger Brian To’o despite concerns over his injured ankle.
“Brian got named in the team, so that’s normally a fair indicator there [that he will play],” Panthers lock Isaah Yeo said.
“In regard to everyone else, we’ve rested a couple of players each week over the last fortnight and they’ve pulled up great from that. The healthier you are leading into the Finals can only benefit you.”
After getting blown away 60-8 by arch enemies South Sydney last Friday night, the Roosters will be keen to prove the many doubters they’ve collected over the past seven days wrong.
Koroisau said last week’s capitulation by the Chooks should be “thrown away”.
“When I saw the final score on the NRL app, I thought it was a typo – I couldn’t imagine the score getting blown out like that,” he said.
“I know what kind of team the Roosters are and they’re going to bounce back hard… they never stay down for long.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.