Plenty of people have asked questions about Penrith’s ability to win the Premiership again this year. After the last two weeks, those questions have well and truly been answered.
We heard all off-season that the loss of Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau would end Penrith’s dream run. But after a shaky start, Ivan Cleary’s side has proven the club’s “next man up” mentality is more than just a convenient catchphrase.
Indeed, Penrith’s thrashings of Canberra and Manly over the past fortnight have come not only without Koroisau and Kikau, but without try scoring machine Taylan May, as well as Australian forward Liam Martin.
And Kiwis enforcer James Fisher-Harris was also missing from the Manly game, and most of the match against the Raiders.
Penrith just keep producing, no matter what the challenge.
In part it’s because Penrith’s back three do so much work that it can cater for a forward the quality of Martin or Fisher-Harris being out. The workload is spread so evenly across the squad that the Panthers are able to adapt to challenges other clubs would find impossible to overcome.
Momentum usually swings back and forth in NRL games but Penrith manages to maintain it for longer than most and it’s hard to stop them once they’re on a roll. It was only in the second half last week that Manly finally got some decent ball after being starved of possession, but it was all too late as the damage had been done.
Yet again Penrith conceded just two tries – a consistent defensive effort that sees Penrith with the best points differential in the competition after six rounds.
And it is that defensive resolve that could prove the difference against Newcastle on Saturday evening. Of all the top eight teams, the eighth placed Knights have the worst defensive record – having let 138 points past them this year. And while last week’s win over the Warriors was a significant confidence-boost, they’d need a very sharp improvement to get past the Panthers.
Victory has been made even more difficult for Newcastle with captain Jayden Brailey to miss this encounter after picking up an injury last Sunday night. With Kalyn Ponga also out for another week before his much-anticipated Round 8 return, the Knights are struggling when it comes to troops.
Penrith meanwhile look set to welcome back Liam Martin, and with Origin just around the corner, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll come back with a bang if he does get promoted from the extended bench.
At times this season the Knights have looked like the easybeats of the competition, but Adam O’Brien has clearly got them in a strong mental state and they’re certainly not surrendering without a fight, which is not something you could have said of them last year.
Even so, it’s hard to see them toppling an in-form Penrith here, especially with the likes of Dylan Edwards and Nathan Cleary in such good form.
A trip to McDonald Jones Stadium is never easy, but the Panthers should have too much experience and way too much quality to not get the job done here.
Tip: Panthers by 18.
Penrith and Newcastle play on Saturday, April 15 at 5.30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium. The game is live on Fox Sports, Kayo and Radio 2GB.
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.