Time to get serious as run to September begins

Nathan Cleary is set to return this weekend. Photo: NRL Photos.
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If ever there’s been a top eight clash robbed of talent, it’s this one.

Both the Panthers and Roosters will be under-strength for this all-important battle on Saturday evening at Suncorp Stadium, but with so much to play for, it’ll be a case of getting on with the job for both sides.

This game is all about the top four.

For Penrith, victory would guarantee a top four finish and ensure no unlikely drop out of the key Finals block.

For the Roosters, a win would see them well and truly in the fight to displace the Eels and grab fourth spot and a likely date with Melbourne in week one of the Finals.

Trent Robinson’s troops have won their last four games – the past two against Newcastle and Parramatta in particularly impressive style.

The 46-0 thumping they copped at the hands of Melbourne back in early July is a distant memory.

Talking of the Storm, they steamrolled Penrith last weekend in a game that will be quickly brushed aside given the amount of talent Ivan Cleary’s side had on the sideline.

Jarome Luai will be looking for an improved performance. Photo: NRL Photos.

That said, it was disappointing to see the likes of Jarome Luai, Charlie Staines and Stephen Crichton produce poor games.

Some of the cavalry returns on Saturday night with Api Koroisau and Isaah Yeo leading the charge. And Nathan Cleary has also been named and will hopefully return if he gets through some final checks later in the week.

The Panthers will however be without Crichton, who copped a one week ban earlier this week for a moment of madness late in the Storm game.

The return of Koroisau and Yeo will hopefully toughen up Penrith’s middle defence – especially given the Roosters are a dynamite attacking side.

The boys from Bondi have scored 94 tries this season, the third best in the competition behind just the Storm and Rabbitohs, and also sit third in line breaks and fifth in tackle breaks. When they get the momentum in games, they really put the foot down, and that’s what’s kept them humming along this season despite the lack of troops at different points of the year.

Any side that runs out with James Tedesco, Angrus Crichton and Victor Radley on the team sheet is going to be hard to beat – throw in Daniel Tupou, Joseph Manu and rising star Sam Walker and you have a footy team that could cause plenty of headaches in September.

Viliame Kikau. Photo: NRL Photos.

And in a big boost, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has beaten a dangerous contact charge and is free to play.

Penrith has named Tevita Pangai Junior to make his club debut and if you believe what he’s said in the last few weeks, he’s not just at the side for a quick pay cheque. He wants to make a legitimate difference to the team, so there’s no question all eyes will be on him on Saturday night.

The Panthers need to ice their opportunities – we saw against Melbourne last week that if you don’t take your chances, the game can quickly slip through your fingers.

For me, the path to the title starts now. Forget the Origin period and the hangover that followed, Penrith did enough in the first half of the season to ensure a top four finish. Now it’s just about being in the right form when the big games come. Around now is when you want to see the team heading towards a peak. Time to show the rest of the competition what they’ve got.

Tip: Panthers by 10.

Penrith and the Roosters play on Saturday, August 7 at 5.30pm at Suncorp Stadium.

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