Despite the number of players out last Friday night, I was always pretty confident the Panthers would get the job done against the Bulldogs.
Even in the second half when things got a little scary, it was clear that Penrith just needed the momentum to swing back to them and they’d win the game. That’s exactly what happened, and the patched-up Panthers got the two points.
This Sunday, despite Newcastle’s position on the ladder, has always been the danger game for me when browsing the NRL draw throughout the year.
If anything this Sunday’s team line-up has more doubt about it than the one named last Tuesday to take on Canterbury. The Panthers would have predicted the talent gulf confronting them from long ago, but as much as they’d have a plan around players backing up from Origin this Sunday, the reality is harder to predict.
Coach Ivan Cleary named all of his Origin stars when required to file his team list on Tuesday, but that was some 28 hours before a ball was even kicked at Accor Stadium on Wednesday night. Just how his players return to the foot of the Mountains will determine how things ultimately look on Sunday.
Cleary would also have one eye on next week’s clash with the wounded Warriors, knowing that for many of his Origin stars three games in the space of 10 or so days is not an ideal situation. He’ll manage this process carefully you’d imagine, and nobody will be backing up unnecessarily, especially given the break his team has at the top of the table.
One thing we do know is that some of Penrith’s biggest non-Origin names are having perhaps their best seasons in Penrith colours. Dylan Edwards is flying at fullback (it’s hard to imagine he’s the same player who was dumped to reserve grade only a few years ago), while Viliame Kikau must be chugging a glass of red cordial before kick-off. He just wants to hurt people (in a good way, of course!). One thing is for sure – Kikau will leave nothing on the table when he eventually does clear out his locker, bound for Belmore at year’s end.
Against Canterbury last week Penrith did the simple things right, as they have done for much of the season. They were caught short in defence a couple of times, but that can be put down to the systems not quite working as well as they do when the Origin stars are there.
It’ll be a similar game plan this week: keep it simple, kick well and defend like it’s the last minute of a Grand Final.
The Knights have been one of the most disappointing teams this season and are struggling to find the form necessary to trouble the defending Premiers usually, but they’d surely rate themselves a chance on a Sunday afternoon at home against a side dealing with the trials and tribulations of representative football.
Of course Newcastle have some of their own concerns here too and it’s a must that Kalyn Ponga backs up if they’re to trouble the Panthers.
I believe Penrith will win, but I’ll be honest – a little slip-up here wouldn’t surprise me given the circumstances at play.
Tip: Panthers by 4.
Penrith and Newcastle play on Sunday, June 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium from 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.