I haven’t had to write a column like this in years. Last week I asked whether the Panthers had lost their mojo, I said ‘yes’ but they’ll get it back quickly. It was the most critical thing I’d written about Penrith since the start of 2020.
Until this week.
The performance against the Tigers last Saturday in Bathurst was disappointing to say the least. This is taking nothing away from a Wests Tigers side which played their hearts out and deserved the win.
I’d like to think this column is not just a knee-jerk reaction after one bad performance. I believe the warning signs have been there for weeks, but this game exposed three areas I believe the Panthers have to address if they are to bounce back into premiership contention again.
1. Hooker – The team has struggled in this area all year but up against Apisai Koroisau, well he showed the true gulf between himself and both Mitch Kenny and Soni Luke. The Panthers’ service from dummy half seems slow and one-dimensional, it doesn’t ask any questions of the defence. After a promising start, even Soni Luke is showing signs that his initial crafty play and slight of hand are starting to diminish. An answer has to be found in this position because at the moment it’s just not working as it should be.
2. Attack – I never thought I’d say this but the Panthers’ attack really needs some work. Apart from rounds five and six, the team has struggled to score points and the attack has lost its crisp, fast passing and slick ball playing movements which had bamboozled opposition teams for the last three years. Now, passes are missing their mark, players are over-running the ball and every attacking play almost looks like it’s in slow motion.
3. Forward dominance – The side needs James Fisher-Harris and Liam Martin back as soon as possible. While the pack is still defending well, it misses these two ‘smash and bash’ players which made the pack so scary, for so long. Moses Leota is trying hard and Zac Hosking is a wonderful prospect but you can really see how the team misses the influence of both Fish and Martin. One more scary big bugger in the pack would be great as well.
Look, some of the things I have pointed out in this column aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, jaw dropping observations or suggestions.
I don’t know how to fix these things or even if they need fixing but I know coach Ivan Cleary, the coaching staff and the players do.
And that will make all the difference in the world.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.