If there’s one thing this couch coach thought Premiership-winning coach Ivan Cleary got wrong last year, it was the handling of the team during the 2021 State of Origin series.
Penrith lost both games during this period and one gets the feeling Ivan is determined that won’t happen again this year.
So, when asked about the upcoming series in the media conference after the win over the Roosters last Saturday, Ivan said confidently: “One of the things we did learn was that you have to be careful when moving players into different roles they’re not accustomed to. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us but our NSW Cup team [keep winning] so we’ve got players in form but I’m looking forward to the challenge and seeing plenty of the Cup boys picked [in first grade] because they deserve it.”
Ivan admitted he put Jarome Luai in Nathan Cleary’s role last year when the Clive Churchill Medallist was out, and it simply didn’t work.
This means true half Sean O’Sullivan will fill that role when Cleary is out on Origin duties next week.
Ivan also believes the players showed the benefits of being involved in the Origin series during their tough Finals run last year.
“If your guys play well in the Origin arena, then it’s going to help you down the back end of the season. As a club it also tests your culture and your systems, so it’s a challenge we look forward to,” he said.
The challenge to cover for up to seven players will be tough. One can reasonably expect that Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Liam Martin and even possibly Api Koroisau will be picked during the duration of the series.
There is some protection for Penrith this year with a bye following one Origin game and the other being a stand alone Rep Round.
The one game where all seven could be out will be against the Bulldogs in Round 13 at BlueBet Stadium, just before the first Origin on June 8.
Here is my predicted Panthers team for the night: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Robert Jennings 4. Izack Tago 5. Taylan May 6. Kurt Falls 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Scott Sorensen 13. J’maine Hopgood. Interchange: 14. Soni Luke 15. Jaeman Salmon 16. Matt Eisenhuth 17. Spencer Leniu.
It’s still a good-looking side with plenty of strike power and while the Bulldogs may be in a hole at the moment, nothing will fire them up more than getting a win against the Premiers on their home ground.
It won’t be a walk in the park but one gets the feeling these 17 Panthers will still get the job done.
Peter Lang is an experienced writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.