With only six teams left in the 2023 Premiership campaign, this weekend will see another two sides eliminated, with only four to progress to the penultimate round.
Fortunately, the Panthers are already one of the teams who are through to the final four courtesy of an impressive 32-6 victory over the New Zealand Warriors last Saturday.
The other team which has advanced to the final four is the Brisbane Broncos after they took care of the Melbourne Storm 26-0.
Penrith and Brisbane will no doubt use the extra week off to freshen up their troops but more importantly, it’s one less game they have to play to make it to the ‘Big Dance’.
It’s also one less game where players can get injured.
For the Panthers, it’s an extra week of rehab for Jarome Luai, who despite his optimism is fighting the clock to get his shoulder right to play in one of the toughest sports in the world.
It’s an extra week for centre Izack Tago to get his pec strengthened for all the high impact tackles and running he’ll have to do.
It’s an extra week for Mitch Kenny and Scott Sorensen to rest their niggling injuries and do some more rehab work.
Finally, it’s an extra week for every player to give their bodies a rest.
At this time of the year, you can bet your life that most players are carrying some sort of niggling injury or minor bumps and bruises.
This break will do them all a world of good.
The Panthers can also sit back this weekend and watch the Storm, Roosters, Knights and Warriors belt the living tripe out of each other.
In years gone by, there has been some debate as to whether the week off is a good thing. Some argued it halted momentum and could be a distraction for the resting teams.
Over the years this has not always been the case and I think if you ask any coach in the competition, every single one of them would take the week off given the opportunity.
Now let’s take a brief look at the two sides which will do battle for the privilege to advance to the Preliminary Final and take on the Panthers for a spot in the Grand Final.
If the Roosters win, they’ll face Penrith with plenty of momentum after collecting two ‘big scalps’ along the way in the Sharks and Storm. In Trent Robinson, they also have one of the most experienced coaches in the competition, a premiership winner.
If Melbourne win, they will play the Panthers ready to take revenge on a side which has already beaten them convincingly twice this season. Depending on injuries they also have the firepower to trouble Penrith’s much vaunted defence. Players like Harry Grant, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes are all genuine match winners.
If you ask the Penrith players, they’ll tell you to a man, they don’t care who they play.
“Respect every opponent, but fear none,” is a well-known sports quote.
One gets the feeling that’s exactly how the Panthers feel.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.