Panthers and Broncos face-off in epic start to NRL’s Indigenous Round

The Panthers celebrate a try. Photo: NRL Images.
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It may be that we look back on the Round 11 game against the Roosters as the night Penrith had their “real deal” moment as far as the 2023 Premiership is concerned.

Just when the bookies and experts started to look elsewhere for their Grand Final winner, the Panthers put their hand up and in their best Shannon Noll impersonation, yelled “what about me?” in the loudest possible way.

Now Ivan Cleary’s side has an opportunity to back-up that impressive 48-4 flogging of the Roosters when they face the impressive Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in Round 12.

Sitting second on the ladder, Brisbane has been one of the best sides in the competition this year as they try to put last year’s stunning collapse out of the top eight behind them.

But without Adam Reynolds for this clash due to a neck problem, Penrith have a real opportunity to pounce and depending on other results, could even finish the round as competition leaders.

Adam Reynolds won’t play for Brisbane. Photo: NRL Images.

With Penrith having the bye and a guaranteed two points next week, this is a crucial match and one that could set the Panthers up for the representative season nicely.

There’s no question Jarome Luai’s return to form was one of the highlights of last week’s win. Two line breaks and a try highlights what was very much a statement game from the incumbent New South Wales five-eighth, ahead of Origin selection this weekend. Should Luai impress again against Brisbane, it would be difficult not to pick him.

And it wasn’t just Luai who found the kind of form that made Penrith such a dominant force over the past few seasons. The likes of Isaah Yeo and Scott Sorensen also had outstanding games, leaving the Roosters with little in response to what was a first class overall performance.

I love what Brisbane are offering this year and I think Kevin Walters has found the perfect mix with the likes of Reece Walsh, Selwyn Cobbo and Ezra Mam, plus the consistently good games of Kurt Capewell and Patrick Carrigan, and the sheer dominance of Payne Haas up front.

Sunia Turuva scores for Penrith last week. Photo: NRL Images.

In fact, there’s a lot of similarities in this Brisbane team to the Panthers in 2020 and 2021; and it’s clear they are building to something. But they are a different team without Reynolds and I’m not convinced they’ll quite have the attacking firepower with Jock Madden wearing the number seven.

The key for Brisbane is the likes of Haas and Thomas Flegler having big games up front, in an attempt to cancel out the power that Moses Leota and James Fisher-Harris will bring.

I’ve got little doubt this one is all about the forwards. If the Broncos can get a roll-on then perhaps Madden can fill in the Reynolds role and create opportunities out wide, along with the lively Ezra Mam.

But if it’s Penrith that get the momentum, it’s hard to imagine Brisbane stopping Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, especially after the confidence received last week.

Nathan Cleary was in brilliant form last week. Photo: NRL Images.

And having Liam Martin back in the team after a successful return last weekend is also a win.

We’re in for a good game of footy here, but Penrith’s return to top class form last weekend and Reynolds being out means it’s a win for the visitors for me.

Tip: Panthers by 8.

Penrith and Brisbane will play at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday, May 18 at 7.50pm. The game is live on Fox League and Channel 9.

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