Time for under-pressure Panthers to show some magic

A dejected Penrith after the loss to the Tigers. Photo: NRL Images.
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It’s hard to know what to say after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Wests Tigers.

You could blame the rain.

Indeed, on a dry track the Panthers probably, maybe, win.

But it feels like there’s something more at play here. Let’s be honest, things haven’t been great since Round 1.

Sure, the losses have been close. But still, they are losses. Defeats that wouldn’t have happened in 2021 and 2022.

The wins have hardly been convincing, except for the Manly victory in Round 5.

There’s a few issues at play.

First, it’s not difficult to see that the limited preparation for the new season has taken its toll. It’s probably no surprise Dylan Edwards is the shining light at present, because he didn’t have World Cup duties and was able to enjoy a more conventional off-season.

We also know the Panthers need a hooker, one that suits Penrith’s style; a style built with Api Koroisau wearing the 9. But it’s not the only problem and it’s not an easy fix regardless, so Penrith must find a way for the Mitch Kenny / Soni Luke combination to work.

There’s a lot on the line for Penrith against the Warriors on Saturday afternoon.

Nathan Cleary gets a kick away against the Tigers. Photo: NRL Images.

Right now it appears Penrith aren’t as driven to protect their title and championship status as other teams are to take it away.

Unless the solution to that problem is found, this may not be the season we were hoping for.

But this is a champion team and you write champion teams off at your peril.

As the weeks roll on, vital cogs of the wheel will return – let’s not forget Penrith have been missing two international starting forwards in Liam Martin and James Fisher-Harris.

Nathan Cleary will shrug off that groin injury eventually, Izack Tago will return too and things will start to click again; it’s just a matter of how long it all takes.

I’m somewhat confident the Panthers will bounce back and beat the Warriors on Saturday afternoon as Magic Round continues at Suncorp Stadium.

Sure, it’s about as ordinary as it gets losing to the Tigers, with all due respect. Yes, the Tigers played well but the Panthers at their best match and exceed what their opponents present, regardless of the weather.

The Panthers show some terrific defence. Photo: NRL Images.

Sometimes losses like that one, however, can be the kick up the backside you need. It should have come against Newcastle a couple of weeks ago, but the Golden Point win covered the bigger problem. The loss to Souths, while disappointing, was a last minute defeat at the hands of a quality opposition, so perhaps the message didn’t quite sink in.

Now, Penrith definitely know they have to improve – and improve a lot.
Teams like Cronulla, Souths and Brisbane are all making statements – the Panthers, the two-time champs, are yet to make theirs.

But Penrith has plenty of time, and with a dry track on Saturday I think Ivan Cleary can get his side up for the type of win that would silence some of the growing list of critics, some of whom have short memories and an even shorter ability to show patience.

The return of Fisher-Harris is significant. Penrith have missed his firepower up front, and he’ll be a welcome inclusion against a big Warriors pack.

James Fisher Harris in action against the Eels. Photo: NRL Images.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is a huge inclusion for the Warriors and his return allows Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to return to his more conventional wing spot.

Under Andrew Webster, the Warriors are a much more committed side with a strong resolve.

But I’m not convinced they’ve got the points in them against a Penrith defence that remains the best in the competition by far.

I predict Penrith will make a statement here – they’re back, and don’t write them off just yet.

Tip: Panthers by 16.

Penrith and the Warriors will play at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, May 6 at 3pm. The game is live on Fox Sports, Kayo and ABC 702 Radio.

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