Panthers prepare for Finals tune-up against struggling Broncos

Nathan Cleary could be primed for a big game. Photo: NRL Images.
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There was some shock and disappointment in the crowd at Panthers Stadium last Saturday night when David Nofoaluma crossed for the Wests Tigers in the eighth minute – finally breaking Penrith’s impenetrable first 20 minute defence.

But one man happy enough with how things played out was Ivan Cleary, who said post-match he was keen to see his side win in a different way – particularly as the Finals get closer.

And while the 30-6 final scoreline proved once again Penrith’s dominance in this competition, Cleary’s men didn’t have it easy – they had to fight their way back into the game, before the Tigers eventually conceded they were no match for the home side.

Nobody at Penrith is getting ahead of themselves but it can’t be denied that Penrith’s run home is problematic for a side that will come up against some of the NRL’s most experienced and Finals-hardened sides in October.

Brian To’o scores for the Panthers. Photo: NRL Images.

The Panthers face the bottom three sides over the next month, including the Broncos this weekend, and should the points flow in those games, Cleary will have to find a way to ensure his troops are battle ready when things get tougher.

But you can only play what’s in front of you and in the end, Cleary can only ask his side to keep doing what they’ve been doing, while adding a little sharpness around the edges.

Penrith face a Brisbane team that is having a catastrophic season with an unprecedented wooden spoon not out of the question. The entire Broncos organisation is surely counting the days until the end of the season so they can put the disastrous year behind them and move forward with a new coach following the recent axing of Anthony Seibold.

Brisbane can’t beat the Panthers this weekend but Penrith can beat themselves. Should any sort of complacency set in, it’ll open the door for a Broncos side that has shown glimpses of highlights at various points in the last month, albeit only sparingly between turnstile defence and a real lack of enthusiasm and energy.

Liam Martin scores for Penrith. Photo: NRL Images.

It also can’t be ignored that the Panthers haven’t travelled much this season and while I can’t agree that it gives the side an ‘unfair’ advantage over others, it certainly disrupts the preparation to a point – but again, coach Cleary will be lapping up any opportunity to challenge his side with something different.

It’s scary to think that the Panthers still notched up such an impressive win last weekend without Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau – two of the side’s best players. Cleary has got the system working so well that it’s almost Melbourne-like – bring in another name, and they do the job admirably regardless of their experience or credentials.

What most impressed me against the Tigers last weekend was Penrith’s monstrous defence. It was so good that the Tigers only made an average of 30.8 metres per set, while the Panthers made 36.4. For the record, only Manly performed worse than the Tigers in that area last round – proving just how much Penrith suffocated them out of the game.

Brent Naden. Photo: NRL Images.

We can’t pretend the Broncos will suddenly turn up and perform in this one. If all goes to plan, the Panthers should be recording a comfortable win here.

Tip: Panthers by 34.

Penrith and Brisbane play at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday, September 3 at 7.50pm.

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