If you’ve woken from a six month slumber and just taken a look at Penrith’s team list for Saturday night’s clash against the Cowboys at QLD Country Bank Stadium, get yourself back off the floor.
Ivan Cleary has appointed himself insurance assessor and taken the injury and suspension risk out of this Round 25 clash by resting almost his entire top team and fielding what resembles a NSW Cup side for the trip to Townsville.
Nobody can blame Cleary for the move. With the Minor Premiership wrapped up and the Finals starting next weekend, you’d be mad not to freshen up in the most sensible way possible ahead of the big September matches.
Cleary knows how close his bruised and battered side came to not winning the Premiership last October and he plans to make it a smoother ride this year; as much as anyone can at this time of the season.
There is no doubt most of the players being rested this weekend would have wanted to play; perhaps they even begged the coach to let them take the trip to Townsville. But that will only make them hungrier for the opening Finals match when it comes along next week.
So, the question is, can this reserve grade team topple the Cowboys?
I’m not convinced it can’t be done. There is plenty of enthusiasm in this team and players who’ve been given an opportunity to prove themselves for next season.
The forward pack isn’t too bad. Matt Eisenhuth and Scott Sorensen offer plenty of toughness, while Mitch Kenny – despite his critics – has actually played some pretty good footy over the last month, especially against the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago.
The big question is perhaps where the points come from. The backline doesn’t scream tries and you’d think the Cowboys would be able to defend a downgraded version of Penrith’s usually lethal left edge. But in what will likely be their final first grade game of the year, you would think Kurt Falls and Sean O’Sullivan would be keen to produce something special – and desire can get you a long way in footy.
Stranger things have happened than a Penrith win here but the Cowboys have plenty to play for.
While they’ve most likely given up the prospect of a home Final now, the possibility remains in play if they do get past the Panthers – with Cronulla not playing until Sunday in their mission to wrap up second spot and a match at PointsBet Stadium next weekend.
Todd Payten’s side would also be keen to right the ship heading into the Finals after a couple of disappointing performances of late, and despite the players Penrith have out, a big win over the defending champions would certainly be a significant confidence-booster.
I think the Cowboys will probably get up here, and I’ll tip them too – because I doubt Ivan Cleary is really going into this match with the intention of winning.
But I reckon these young Panther cubs will give this game a real shake. It’ll be fun and exciting to watch – and a far more relaxing 80 minutes than worrying about any big names getting injured.
Tip: Cowboys by 6.
Penrith and North Queensland will play at QLD Country Bank Stadium on Saturday, September 3 from 7.35pm.
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.