Panthers look to make a statement in Grand Final re-match

Moses Leota celebrates a try against the Eels. Photo: Megan Dunn.
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Penrith and Brisbane come together in Round 3 for the first time since last year’s Grand Final, and no doubt plenty of Broncos players are still recovering from the 17 minute nightmare starring Nathan Cleary last October.

While all the talk this week has been about a Grand Final re-match, the truth is the players don’t seem to see it that way – both are focused on this new campaign, and the Broncos players even refused to talk about the Grand Final at media opportunities this week.

It’s probably for the best. Winning or losing this match certainly doesn’t change the result of last October.

But there’s no question that deep down, media ban or not, the Broncos players will want revenge. They’ll want to prove something to a Penrith team that snuck in and stole the Premiership while they went to sleep. It might not get them a Premiership ring, but it would certainly provide some satisfaction and some much-needed confidence as the 2024 campaign rolls on.

After both sides suffered first-up losses to start the new season, Penrith and Brisbane recorded wins last weekend against fellow top contenders.

Nathan Cleary in action against the Eels. Photo: Megan Dunn.

The Panthers were too good for an Eels side that would probably play better if they put as much effort into running and tackling as they did complaining to the referee. Penrith always looked on top but were still pretty rusty with the ball and through the middle in defence; perhaps to be expected given the short pre-season. It appears to be a carbon copy of their start to 2023.

Brisbane were reasonably dominant against Souths though coach Kevin Walters surely wasn’t happy with how they let the Rabbitohs back into the game early in the second half, grabbing some momentum they certainly didn’t deserve. It’s those lapses that cost them the Grand Final last year and they’ll need to fix them if they’re to be a serious threat this season.

Brisbane have of course been dealt a significant blow, with halfback Adam Reynolds to miss this Thursday night showdown and Jock Madden to wear the number seven jumper. It’s a significant blow early in the season but Madden will certainly be seeking to grab the opportunity with both hands.

The Panthers aren’t without problems themselves, with a shoulder injury to James Fisher-Harris forcing changes to the starting pack that is so ferocious, with Lindsay Smith to start at prop. Thankfully, it appears he won’t be out for long.

Penrith did breath a sigh of relief on Sunday when the charge sheet revealed only a monetary fine to Jarome Luai over two incidents in last Friday night’s game, meaning he’s free to play against the Broncos. Luai is probably trying a little too hard at the moment as he saddles up for his ‘last ride’ but I have no doubt he’ll become critical to Penrith’s chances of a fourth straight Premiership as the campaign rolls on.

Jarome Luai in action against the Eels. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Brisbane’s obvious danger comes from their speed out wide and the dynamic Reece Walsh at the back. The fact Walsh and Deine Mariner already have three tries each this season shows where Brisbane’s points will largely come from this year.

Penrith meanwhile will continue to shift right where Izack Tago leads the competition in line breaks this season with six.

As much as this will be talked up as a close encounter, I’m predicting the Panthers to run away with this one and make a Premiership statement early in the season. I can’t see it being a close one.

Tip: Panthers by 18.

Penrith and Brisbane play at BlueBet Stadium on Thursday, March 21 at 8pm. The game is live on Channel Nine and Fox Sports.

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