Rugby league is so often a game of momentum, and different teams handle it differently.
Penrith, for example, rarely give up the momentum once it turns their way. Last Friday night was a great example – it took a little bit of time for the Panthers to wrestle momentum from Brisbane, but once they did there was no turning back. The Broncos were done.
Canberra are the opposite – they give up their momentum so easily, whether it’s through lazy defence, errors or simply not having the mental aptitude to go the full 80 minutes. And once they give it up, they struggle to do what’s necessary to get it back.
It’s why Ricky Stuart’s side has given up more double digit leads in the last few seasons than any other side in the competition. It’s not just bad luck – there’s clearly a pattern in Canberra’s game that Stuart can’t seem to fix.
The Raiders return to BlueBet Stadium this Sunday a year on from that infamous encounter last year that resulted in Penrith being labelled arrogant and mug lairs – an accusation that didn’t bother the Panthers in the slightest, as they knew a slice of arrogance was needed in their attitude to go one better than they did in 2020.
On that day momentum played a role too. The Raiders scored first and appeared in control, but very quickly things turned Penrith’s way and they scored three tries in 12 minutes to take an 18-6 lead into the break. The game was all but over at that point.
It’s hard to know where Stuart goes from here, especially against the defending Premiers. It’s difficult to find too many faults in Penrith’s game at present, so his game plan most wholly and solely be about his own team. And in many ways it’ll be about getting back to basics – defend well, kick strong and try to frustrate the opposition into rare mistakes.
For Penrith, this is another strong test heading into a difficult May where contests against the Eels, Storm and Roosters await. That’s not to suggest this is an easy encounter or Canberra are there to be walked over, but there is no question that Ivan Cleary’s side is swimming along so solidly at present that for the time being, it’s all about improving the little things rather than the bigger picture.
Cleary’s challenge now will be keeping a lid on the talk about Penrith going back-to-back. The Origin period may indeed help that, though Cleary will be hoping to fare better than he did in 2021 during the representative challenges.
The Panthers have stuck with the same team that downed the Broncos last Friday night, while after criticising those who demanded his inclusion in the starting side, Stuart has decided Xavier Savage is ready for top grade footy against the Premiers, naming him on the wing. Jordan Rapana shifts to fullback in place of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who has clearly lost his attacking spark this season.
Both of these teams have enjoyed long turnarounds, and a late afternoon timeslot should make for some free-flowing, energetic football.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is quite the high scoring affair.
Penrith are simply going too good at the moment to be beaten here, but the Raiders are hurting, and will certainly give this a shake at some stage – if the Panthers allow the momentum to shift, that is.
Tip: Panthers by 16.
Penrith and Canberra play at BlueBet Stadium on Sunday, April 24 at 4.05pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.