Panthers likely to put the foot down against hapless Warriors

Brian To'o is finding form for Penrith. Photo: NRL Images.
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From the moment the full-time siren rang out through Accor Stadium last Wednesday night, the last team in the competition you wanted to be was Newcastle.

Nathan Cleary was always going to respond to his Origin performance. And respond he did, with an effort that tossed aside any doubts that may have entered his head after that poor performance for the Blues.

When the Knights lost Kalyn Ponga to a head knock early, it was curtains for Newcastle – and the Panthers ran riot, producing the biggest win of Round 14 and showing no signs of slowing down as the season rolls on.

Let’s face reality: This Saturday evening’s match against the Warriors in Redcliffe could be a bloodbath.

Jarome Luai. Photo: NRL Images.

Even with homegrown hero Stacey Jones in the coach’s box and an early 12-0 lead at their disposal, the Warriors crumbled against the Sharks last weekend, as they have so often in the last few seasons. There is serious problems at that club, issues that can only begin to be addressed when the team finally returns to New Zealand in the coming weeks. The time away from home is clearly taking its toll.

Jones has rolled the dice, with very little to lose, and made a couple of changes this week, including bringing in teen sensation Ronald Volkman to make his first grade debut in the halves. They say this kid is something else.

But it is a mighty introduction to the NRL to come up against Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary, the game’s best halves. They will show little mercy on Saturday night.

There really is no downside to the Panthers at the moment. Whether they’re down on troops, dealing with significant representative drain or facing a danger game, the side responds. It shows how much growth this team has gone through in the last couple of years, and Ivan Cleary appears to have found the magic potion so many defending Premiers fail to discover.

Dylan Edwards and Nathan Cleary. Photo: NRL Images.

So how can the Warriors possibly find a game plan to stop this seemingly unstoppable force, that only Parramatta has managed to halt this year – even then, by just a couple of points?

To be honest I can’t find the answer. Their best chance is hoping that Penrith’s plane is delayed from leaving Sydney airport or that Cleary and Luai forget to pack their boots. It’s that dire for the Warriors.

In any other year you’d suggest Shaun Johnson’s kicking game could get them out of trouble, but that’s looked less unreliable than a Western Line train in the middle of summer this season.

Last week the Warriors were throwing the ball around close to their own try line like they’d simply run out of ideas; and perhaps they have. There’s just no connectivity in this team, almost no desire and very little defensive spirit.

VIliame Kikau is having a strong season. Photo: NRL Images.

It was nice to see Penrith’s right side attack get plenty of ball against Newcastle and that may be the case again this weekend, with both Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o in improving form. But there’s no doubt that it’s the left where Penrith will do the most damage. The spark of Jarome Luai, the absolute beast mode of Viliame Kikau and the try-scoring prowess of Taylan May will no question run riot on Saturday.

Tip: Panthers by 54.

Penrith and the Warriors play at Moreton Daily Stadium on Saturday, June 18 at 5.30pm.

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