History shows that earning a week off in the NRL Finals goes a long way to winning a Premiership. In fact, just one team since 2007 – Johnathan Thurston’s Cowboys – has lost their opening Finals game and gone on to win the Grand Final.
Nathan Cleary and the Panthers will be treating this Saturday’s Qualifying Final against South Sydney as a Grand Final come early, knowing the importance of what a week off in September can do for a side’s Premiership chances.
“I think a week off is always good this time of year,” Cleary admitted.
“I think probably more so just getting a win to have that confidence in a big Finals game against a good team like Souths would definitely help.
“Our mentality going into this match is that this is like a Grand Final to us – we want to play well and get the win. But, if not, then we’re lucky enough to have a second chance.”
Speaking with the Weekender on Tuesday, co-captain Isaah Yeo agreed with his halfback’s comments in terms of the importance of having the week off. However he said it wasn’t the be-all and end-all if things don’t pan out for Penrith on Saturday night.
“I think history shows that having the week off probably helps, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world,” Yeo said.
“It’s nice to have that week off and freshen up as most players are carrying niggles by this point of the year. But we’re lucky we are in the position that we are that we get two opportunities. It’s not the end of the world but it would certainly be nice to win this week.”
Unlike previous Finals campaigns, Penrith head into this year’s Finals series with plenty of experience under their belts having made it all the way to Grand Final Day last year before falling agonisingly short of glory.
Cleary said the lessons he’s picked up over the years – whether it be in Finals games or Origin – will be very valuable over the next four weeks.
“I think experience is priceless especially in big games,” the 23-year-old said.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot of lessons in the big games I’ve played and I’ve been lucky enough to play in a few of them now through Origin and obviously Finals series’.
“I think you always learn with the experiences you get but, having said that, every game is different.”
Cleary, who infamously threw an intercept pass and missed a tackle that led to tries in last year’s Grand Final loss to the Storm, said he’s learned how to be mentally tougher on the footy field especially when things go wrong.
“You can kind of lean on different things, mainly mentally I think,” he said.
“If things aren’t going your way – it’s how you bounce back from that, how you go in the face of adversity. There’s definitely a lot of things I’ve learned and will continue to learn. I’m really looking forward to this year’s Finals series.”
Should Penrith lose on the weekend, they’ll play the winner of the Parramatta versus Newcastle match on Sunday, and then potentially face a Preliminary Final against Melbourne or Manly.
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for a decade.