With the Finals only five weeks away, it’s time to look at the teams which I think could trouble the Panthers during the Finals and even stop them from achieving a three-peat in 2023.
By the way I know I’m being presumptuous with my premise, so forgive me but the column doesn’t work if I’m not.
The first team which has the game to stop Penrith dead in their tracks is the New Zealand Warriors. They’re the flavour of the month with halfback Shaun Johnson back in career-best form. The team is playing a style similar to the Panthers, they’re the real deal and a genuine threat.
The fact that their coach is Penrith’s former attacking coach Andrew Webster, well you can see why every team is looking over their shoulder at the Warriors in the run home.
Brisbane are also a team which can cause the Panthers plenty of problems and already have in 2023. They stunned everyone when they beat Penrith 13-12 in Round 1 and proved a handful again when the Panthers reversed the result in Round 12.
The Broncos are dangerous because of the sheer strike power they have in their team both in the forwards (Payne Haas, Patrick Carrigan) and in the backs (Adam Reynolds, Reece Walsh).
It’s not so much their structured game which is hard to work out or control but rather the off-the-cuff brilliance that players like Walsh and Kotoni Staggs are capable of when they see an opportunity or a staggered defensive line.
Finally, I’ll have to go with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. It doesn’t seem to matter where the Bunnies are on the ladder they always come to play.
Whether it’s their hard-running skilful forwards or the way their backs line up deep in an arc towards your goal line, South Sydney with Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker can pull a rabbit-out-of-a-hat at any time and steal victory from you in the blink of an eye.
The fact that every team always raises their intensity level when they play the back-to-back Premiers means that Penrith can’t take any team lightly and any side can beat them on their day.
But as dangerous as the teams I’ve just talked about are, the Panthers are no pushovers either. To be the best, you have to beat the best and the Panthers always turn up ready to play.
Penrith, barring any major injuries to key players, should see their attack click into gear soon because at times it still looks a little frantic and clunky however their defence has always been strong, while the side’s for-and-against, is the best in the competition by far.
I’m going to give the last word on the matter, to current Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett. This is what he had to say after the Panthers beat his team in Round 20.
“There’s a few teams out there that are good and they’re (Penrith) one of them,” Bennett said.
“They have the confidence and the belief… there’s no reason why they can’t win three-in-a-row.
“But it’s not going to be easy and they know that.”
They certainly do Benny, because nothing worthwhile ever is.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.