With the Panthers enjoying a well deserved ‘bye’ this weekend I thought it was a good time to look at their run home after the final State of Origin is played on July 13 in Brisbane.
Penrith will once again contribute seven players to New South Wales for the decider. The magnificent seven are Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton and Apisai Koroisau.
With coach Ivan Cleary so far navigating the tough Origin period without dropping a game, it’s long been the belief that between rounds 18 and 25, every Panthers Origin player will receive a week off to help refresh them for what will be another tough Finals campaign.
The game I’ve heard where the majority of the seven will be rested (if not all of them) is the Round 18 clash against the Wests Tigers at CommBank Stadium. It’s been long pencilled in as a weekend off for the Blues rep boys.
That’s no disrespect to the Tigers, it’s simply timing. It will also give Cleary the chance to blood some up-and-comers in Sunia Turuva and Thomas Jenkins while Soni Luke and Lindsay Smith are also expected to get a run.
Round 19 will see Penrith take on the Cronulla Sharks with all rep players, barring injury, expected to be on deck. It will be a challenging game and it’s around this time that coach Cleary will start preparing the team to peak in six weeks’ time.
From rounds 20 to 25, Penrith will have a tough run with the only team to beat them so far, the Parramatta Eels away in Round 20, then the Raiders in the nation’s capital in Round 21.
The tune up to the Finals will then hit second gear with a home game at BlueBet Stadium against the Melbourne Storm in Round 22 before the Bunnies away in Round 23 before returning home to BlueBet Stadium to face the Warriors in Round 24. The boys will then finish the regular season with an absolute belter against the Cowboys in Townsville.
It’s a challenging draw but there is enough winnable games to see the Panthers finish Minor Premiers on 42 points. So, crunching the numbers I expect Penrith to drop at least two of their remaining seven games. Losing three would be the maximum.
The danger games in the run home are the Sharks, Eels, Storm and Cowboys. I’m not willing to be any more specific because there are way too many variables which are unknown at this time.
Still, no matter which way you slice it or dice it, strap yourself in because it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.