If ever rugby league has presented a David and Goliath battle, it’s this Saturday at BlueBet Stadium.
First versus last on the ladder and it feels like the gulf has never been wider.
You’d have to find the most one-eyed of Canterbury fan to think they have a chance on Saturday against competition leaders Penrith, but often these lopsided contests don’t turn out to provide the blowouts you’d expect.
Talking of expectations, I think everyone anticipated Penrith would find things much tougher against Souths last Sunday afternoon, but Ivan Cleary’s juggernaut just rolled on, grabbing a half century for the first time this season on its way to an 11th straight win to start the year.
The most frightening thing about Penrith at the moment is that they seem so effortless in their attack. There’s not too many sides who could lose their fullback and starting prop in the 48 hours before the game and then go on to demolish a team like the Panthers did to Souths on Sunday.
But this is the new Penrith, now Melbourne-like in developing a ‘next man up’ system where no matter who fills the gap, they slip into the rhythm and habit of winning.
Talking of gaps to fill, Ivan Cleary again needed to shuffle things around this week with Kurt Capewell spending a week on the sidelines due to suspension.
Liam Martin starts in the second row while Moses Leota returns from injury to start at prop.
The Panthers remain without Dylan Edwards, with Stephen Crichton set to once again fill-in at fullback.
So how do Canterbury possibly stop Penrith rolling over the top of them on Saturday afternoon?
The impossible task can only be led by a simple game plan – complete your sets, kick well and try to play the game at Penrith’s end, limiting the opposition’s opportunities.
This may be first versus last on the ladder but there’s still a bit of passion in this contest with a bunch of enticing storylines – Matt Burton against his future club; Trent Barrett against his old one; the likes of Jack Hetherington and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returning to Panthers Stadium to try to cause a boilover. The list goes on.
The Bulldogs have been improving somewhat in recent weeks, but it feels like they don’t know how to win at present. Even when opportunities land right at their feet – such as against Canberra a fortnight ago – they can’t seem to find the required punch to get themselves home.
And recent history against Penrith isn’t on their side either. The Bulldogs have failed to score a point in their last two outings against Ivan Cleary’s men, going down 28-0 in atrocious conditions at Bankwest Stadium earlier this year and 42-0 in the last game of the regular season last year at Stadium Australia.
Let’s be real: If Penrith turn up to play, this will resemble a cricket score.
I’d like to be respectable to Canterbury and their fans but I have to be honest – I think the record books will need to get cracked open just before 5pm on Saturday. These two sides are just in very different places at present.
Tip: Panthers by 70.
Penrith and Canterbury play at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday, May 29 at 3pm.
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.