Third versus last on the ladder. TAB odds of $1.08 against $8.00. On paper, this Saturday night’s battle of the big cats should be one-way traffic with the Panthers running riot over the Tigers.
But this is rugby league, and especially in 2023, anything can happen.
Indeed the Tigers last Sunday proved they’re anything but easybeats, very nearly upsetting Manly in wet conditions at Campbelltown Stadium.
Had the last pass stuck on a couple more occasions, they may have just recorded their first win of the year.
And the Panthers are still missing a host of key players, including James Fisher-Harris and Liam Martin, with centre Izack Tago added to that list this week. Tyrone Peachey starts for the first time this year in his place.
I’m not reading too much into Penrith’s capitulation at the hands of Souths last Thursday night. The Panthers were well in control until Sunia Turuva got injured, forcing a backline re-shuffle that Souths took total advantage of in the final five minutes. You can’t help such circumstances but if Turuva doesn’t go off, Penrith probably hang on.
The fact that Penrith’s losses this year have been by one point (twice) and two points says a lot about the team. Yes, they’ve come back to the pack a little but the main mission this year is simply staying in top four contention and being in the mix when the whips are cracking at the business end of the season.
The Panthers can’t afford to take the Tigers lightly this Saturday in Bathurst but perhaps the best thing for Ivan Cleary’s side is how results went last weekend. They won’t want to lose back-to-back games, while the Tigers’ effort showed they won’t be easybeats. The two results will ensure Penrith are very focused heading into this one.
In the end the Panthers would be disappointed by their kicking game last weekend – the Rabbitohs dominated in this facet of the game, while they also doubled Penrith’s offloads, keeping the ball alive and forcing Penrith to scramble more than they’re used to.
You would think Penrith should be too clever and too strong for the Tigers. It’s hard to imagine Tim Sheens’ side containing Penrith’s strong starts to sets, which will give Nathan Cleary plenty of time to plot attacking raids.
As much as the Tigers may try hard, they rarely take the right option – perhaps that’s more of a confidence thing than anything else, but it doesn’t do them any favours when it comes to taking advantage of situations presented to them.
Also working in Penrith’s favour is the lead-up time to this game. They played last Thursday, providing a nine-day turnaround after what was a quality game of football. And while the Tigers aren’t necessarily on a short turnaround, they did play on Sunday in wet and sluggish conditions – so there’s no doubt the legs would have been heavy early in the week.
The Panthers simply need to go about their game plan here. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. They’re stronger in almost every position, have a much clearer mind in attack and a better defensive resolve.
The one x-factor for the Tigers could be Api Koroisau. Not only would he be keen to get one over his former team mates, but there’s no question Penrith are struggling to adequately replace him at dummy half.
I’m also a little concerned that there could be further surprise changes to the line-up. Call it a gut feel, or examining the extended bench too much, but it just feels like a late shake-up could be on the cards.
An intriguing game of footy this one – and Penrith’s performance against Newcastle a fortnight ago does have me a little worried about which Panthers team will turn up. But I’m confident enough Ivan Cleary’s team will get the job done at their home away from home.
Tip: Panthers by 18.
Penrith and Wests Tigers play at Carrington Park in Bathurst on Saturday, April 29 at 7.35pm. The game is live on Fox Sports and Kayo.
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.