I have to admit I feel a bit sorry for Knights coach Adam O’Brien and the club’s fans.
They sit in 14th spot on the NRL ladder yet the bounce of a ball or a bit of luck could have changed that dramatically. They’ve lost a bunch of games late, or fallen just short – like against the Broncos and Roosters in recent weeks.
It goes to show just how fragile this competition can be, and for O’Brien such heartbreaking defeats could ultimately result in his services being no longer required at some stage in the not-too-distant future.
The counter-argument is that the good teams always find a way to win in those circumstances, and Penrith perhaps proved that when these two sides met earlier in the season and the Panthers walked away winners in Golden Point despite producing one of their worst performances of the season.
This Saturday evening’s clash at BlueBet Stadium is an intriguing one; but could well come down to just how many of Penrith’s State of Origin players back up from Wednesday night’s clash at Suncorp Stadium.
The brutality of Origin is well known and with a trip to Melbourne next Friday night, nobody could blame Ivan Cleary if he was a little cautious and rested a couple of players – even though they’d all want to play if they can.
Last Friday night’s game against the Cowboys in Townsville ended in disappointing fashion but take nothing away from the less experienced players who filled in for the Origin stars – they all held their own, it was just a bit of inexperience and game management that cost the Panthers in the end.
Had leaders like Nathan Cleary or Isaah Yeo been there, the Panthers likely would have closed out the game and built on their half-time lead so there’s no need at all to hit the panic button.
The Knights probably should have beaten the Roosters given the amount of ball they had close to the line and it is failing to capitalise on those opportunities that likely frustrates O’Brien the most. You work hard to get your chances, so walking away with nothing is bitterly disappointing.
While the Knights have been thrashed a couple of times this year, they’ve been competitive in most games and I expect that to be the case again on Saturday. I certainly think the Knights are better than their ladder position shows and they came pretty close to toppling competition leaders Brisbane a fortnight ago at Suncorp, so a confronting away trip doesn’t phase them.
Kalyn Ponga will be the key here – he really stood up against the Roosters and Newcastle looked a lot better whenever he had his hands on the ball. If he can keep up his touches and involvement on Saturday, he could well cause some headaches for the Panthers.
Without Cleary, the Panthers lack a bit of creativity and the end result is less points. That opens the door for the Knights, but they need to take those opportunities.
One thing is for sure: You won’t catch Penrith conceding close to 30 points two weeks in a row so if you’re going to beat them, you need to be pretty tight in defence. That’s where I’m less convinced about the Knights. I think this current Penrith side has one or two more tries more in them than Newcastle and it should be enough to get them across the line.
All of that said, beware a team with nothing to lose – and we’re getting to the point of the season where it’s do-or-die for the Knights.
Tip: Panthers by 8.
Penrith and Newcastle play on Saturday, June 24 at BlueBet Stadium from 5.30pm. The match 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.