When the Panthers got home 30-18 against the Bulldogs early last month, Ivan Cleary made a decision: he would rest his Origin stars for the game against the Wests Tigers in Round 18.
It was already in his long-term plans, but he saw enough from his depth that night to confirm he could proceed with resting his representative players in an effort to ensure they were fresh for the run to the Finals.
The decision has certainly added some extra interest into this first versus last clash at CommBank Stadium on Sunday, and the Tigers would consider themselves a chance of snapping a five game losing streak that stretches all the way back to when Scott Morrison was Prime Minister.
But nobody should be counting their chickens just yet.
There’s still plenty of talent in this Penrith side and those who’ve been handed the responsibility of keeping this runaway successful season on track will not let the team down on Sunday afternoon.
Let’s not forget Penrith still boast their superstar fullback in Dylan Edwards, in-form second-rower Viliame Kikau and starting props James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota in the starting side – all formidable figures who will step up on Sunday.
Fisher-Harris is also stepping out for his 150th first grade game, and will be keen to make his presence felt.
And Sean O’Sullivan, now Dolphins-bound in 2023, hasn’t put a foot wrong when filling in for Nathan Cleary this year. This may well be his final chance to wear the number seven for Penrith and I’m suspecting he’ll stamp his authority on this match.
Talking of halves, don’t the Tigers have quite the conundrum at present?
This week interim coach Brett Kimmorley has shifted Jackson Hastings from the halves to lock, with Adam Doueihi named at five-eighth. Luke Brooks remains in the halves, despite talk a few weeks ago that he was on the verge of being dropped.
Three doesn’t go into two and at some stage the Tigers will need to make a call on just who is taking the six and seven jersey permanently, and the move of Doueihi back into the halves could well be the first signs of that puzzle coming together.
The Tigers have also been boosted by the return of James Tamou from a calf injury, while James Roberts and Ken Maumalo are also back in the side.
This is a game the Tigers could win given the circumstances, and a loss would mean little to Penrith’s Premiership hopes given the number of players missing.
But despite the number of outs, I’m confident the patched-up Panthers can get the job done – their running game will just be too good for the Tigers, who were brave against the Eels last week but never really looked like winning. The bench impact is also telling.
Tip: Panthers by 10.
The Panthers and Tigers play at CommBank Stadium on Sunday, July 17 at 2.00pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.