Lang on League: Panthers can still lift the trophy

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Take a deep breath Panthers fans and don’t worry, Penrith can still win this year’s 2021 NRL Premiership.

While the result against the high-flying Storm wasn’t ideal, there are plenty of reasons, not excuses, why it won’t affect the Panthers’ premiership charge this season.

The first reason is, well pretty bloody obvious, the side was missing six of its best players which included its two captains, on-field playmaker, its most dominant forward and the best metre-eater winger in the competition.

The side will be instantly better when Nathan Cleary returns. He is just as critical and important to the team as Andrew Johns was to Newcastle and Jonathan Thurston was for the Cowboys and that’s no word of a lie.

Issah Yeo and Nathan Cleary. Photo: Penrith Panthers.

The fact that they will be even better when Isaah Yeo, James Fisher-Harris, Brian To’o, Api Koroisau and Tyrone May return is another ‘Duuhh’ obvious statement.

Take this sort of firepower out of any team, even the Storm and they will struggle against the best sides in the competition. I mean look at how Melbourne performed against the Cowboys in round 19 without three of their key players, let alone six.

A positive about such a major injury toll however is that it gives young players, like Izack Tago and J’maine Hopgood valuable time in first grade and we saw on the weekend just how much those two players improved from playing more top grade footy.

The fact that an X-factor weapon like Tevita Pangai Junior has joined the team for the rest of the season is another reason Penrith can still win the comp.

There’s no doubt the Origin campaign really knocked the team around this year. Injuries and missed training sessions all disrupted a football team not used to handling such adversity.

Finally, have faith, the coaching staff, led by Ivan Cleary know the last few games have not been up to the high standard the team has produced over the last 18 months and they will fix it.

What game I’m looking forward to

Eels v Rabbitohs. The Bunnies have had a dream draw of late and have been labelled ‘flat track bullies’. The Eels will be the Rabbitohs’ toughest test in weeks.

My Tips for this week

Knights, Dragons, Eels, Sharks, Panthers, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Titans.

The final word

The NRL match review committee has become such a lottery I almost stood in line the other day just to buy a ticket. How did Stephen Crichton receive a one match ban when the player who held onto his leg Cameron Munster got off ‘scot-free’ doing the same thing numerous times this season?

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