Two of the competition’s heavyweight teams do battle in Friday night primetime at BlueBet Stadium this week – and the stakes are very much high heading into this Round 11 encounter.
The Panthers and Roosters both find themselves among a clump of teams sitting on 12 competition points, with the opportunity to escape the pack a little presenting itself on the eve of the busy representative period, which will impact both clubs.
Both sides will be out to make a statement – Penrith returned to the winner’s circle last weekend but remain far from impressive in attack, while the Roosters struggled against a fired up Cowboys, going down 20-6 at Magic Round.
After a mixed period on the road, the Panthers will play their first home game at BlueBet Stadium since way back on April 8 when they demolished Manly, the last time Penrith’s attack looked anything close to what we’ve seen over the Premiership-winning 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Truth is I’m pretty comfortable with where the Panthers sit at present. The side is experienced enough that they’ll only need a short run-in close to the Finals to be in the type of form that wins Premierships, so as long as the wins keep ticking over, the business end of the season is really all that matters.
It’ll also take time for what is essentially an entirely new left side to click, and for Jarome Luai to find his groove again with a new set of players running off him – and a new hooker kicking off the plays at dummy half. There’s no doubt Luai often benefited from the speed of Api Koroisau, he just needs to find a way to adapt to Mitch Kenny’s style.
The one big green tick out of the 18-6 win over the Warriors last Saturday, outside of the two competition points, was the more aggressive forward showing thanks to the return of James Fisher-Harris and Spencer Leniu. Even Moses Leota stepped up a gear, inspired by the return of his front row partner.
Leniu, who scored a crucial try against the Warriors, will be keen to show off his wares to his 2024 club, too.
And it is that aggression in the forwards that I think Penrith can use to their advantage against the Roosters on Friday night. On a short turnaround after a game on a heavy track in which they were almost bullied out of the contest and without Egan Butcher due to concussion protocols, the Roosters may struggle with intensity against Penrith.
In fact if Penrith can turn up and dominate the opening quarter of the game, it might be curtains for Trent Robinson’s side well before half-time.
As much as the Roosters are a team to be feared and respected, I’m not all that confident in any side that hasn’t truly settled on a halves combination by the time we approach the mid-way point of the season.
That only creates uncertainty in attack, and an unsettled feeling especially when you end up on the back foot like the Roosters did against the Cowboys on Sunday. When you don’t know who to turn to when the chips are down, you’re in real trouble.
The fact that the Roosters have only scored three tries in their past two games shows the type of attacking rut they find themselves in.
The whole Joseph Suaalii saga can’t be doing the camp any good either.
Players and coaches can say they don’t read the media but trust me, they all know what is being said about them.
This Penrith team knows what people are saying about their attack and knows what that means to their reputation, and their chances of defending their title again.
Either way, I reckon there’s a real statement coming here from one of these sides – I just hope it’s the good guys in black come just before 10pm on Friday night.
Tip: Panthers by 12.
The Panthers and Roosters play at BlueBet Stadium on Friday, May 12 at 8pm. The game is live on Channel 9 and Fox League.
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.