Cavalry returns as Panthers prepare to cook the Chooks

Nathan Cleary is set to return this weekend. Photo: NRL Photos.
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Penrith come into Friday night’s blockbuster against the Sydney Roosters at BlueBet Stadium on the back of back-to-back defeats for the first time since 2019, and having lost their position on top of the competition table.

This was always going to be a difficult period for the Panthers – the price of success – but the team is through the worst of the scheduling nightmare now and may just benefit from the reality check of slipping to second position.

The cavalry returns this Friday with all of Penrith’s Origin representatives named to take on the Roosters, including Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai who were so missed in the games against the Tigers and Cronulla. The return of Isaah Yeo will also be a significant one given the huge role he now plays in Penrith’s structure.

Not helping the Panthers’ cause was that the last two weeks were on the road. The comfort of home, as well as the returning stars, will make this feel like the Penrith team we all know and love again.

It’s hard to know what to make of the Roosters. Trent Robinson’s side appeared to be cruising to victory when they opened up a 30-4 lead over the Gold Coast last Saturday, only to surrender that lead before a Sam Walker field goal got them home in the dying minutes. They’re the types of games that don’t really feel like wins even though you got the two competition points, and Robinson would be unhappy with the way his side so meekly gave up the commanding lead.

Dylan Edwards is part of a strong looking Penrith backline. Photo: NRL Photos.

This is a Roosters side that can smash the Raiders 44-16, but a week earlier fall to Brisbane 34-16. Rarely has the inconsistency leaked into a single match but that was certainly the case against the Titans. It’s understandable, however, given the huge disruption the Roosters have dealt with this year. Serious injuries and suspensions have forced Robinson into constant reshuffles, and without continuity, we’re simply not seeing the week-to-week dominance we expect from the Roosters.

The return of James Tedesco for this clash will be huge – fresh from the Blues’ victory over Queensland in Origin I, he’ll be the danger man against Penrith. His ability to pop up anywhere on the field, to create something from nothing and to be the ultimate finisher when there’s a line break or broken play result in him easily topping the list of most dangerous players.

Which is why the key to beating the Roosters is shutting them down early, not allowing for second phase play. This current Roosters side can be frustrated into errors when things don’t go their way, and if the Panthers can get on top early it’s hard to see the boys from Bondi fighting back.

Matt Burton shifts back to the centres this week. Photo: NRL Photos.

In that same vein the Panthers need to ensure they find the discipline that helped them to the Minor Premiership in 2020 and during their incredible run of wins to start this campaign. Things have slackened in recent weeks, giving away too many penalties and set-restarts.

Get the discipline right and Penrith should have too much talent for the Roosters to contain, especially with so much to prove in the wake of consecutive losses.

Viliame Kikau will miss this clash due to a hamstring injury, while Tyrone May falls out of the top 17.

Tip: Panthers by 12.

Penrith and the Roosters play at BlueBet Stadium on Friday, June 18 at 7.55pm.

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