Panthers look to avoid a Rabbitohs revival

Dylan Edwards breaks through the Cowboys' defence. Photo: NRL Photos.
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We’ve seen plenty of coach sackings over the years but very few 48 hours before kick-off.

And yet that’s exactly the position Souths found themselves in this week, axing Jason Demetriou just three hours after he issued his team for this Thursday night fixture.

Contrary to popular belief, that does not automatically make this a danger game for Penrith. The whole ‘new coach equals a win’ theory is one of the great rugby league myths.

It is incredible to think how quickly the mighty have fallen. It was in this corresponding fixture last year that the Rabbitohs stormed home late to beat Penrith and emerge as Premiership favourites. We all know what happened next – a spectacular fall from Finals contention, and now a horror start to the 2024 season and a coach gone.

The Panthers meantime are sitting pretty in third spot on the ladder after a gritty 26-20 win over North Queensland last Saturday night.

The final scoreline probably better suited the tightness of the game, with the half-time lead of 18-4 flattering Penrith; the margin bloated by an intercept try against the run of play just before the break.

Jarome Luai. Photo: NRL Photos.

For Penrith to win the match with just 45 per cent of possession, and a completion rate of 78 per cent, against a desperate home team was something to admire.

Indeed, almost every statistic except the one that matters tells you the Cowboys should have won that game. But the Panthers’ Finals-like defence shone through, and it should put to bed any fears that the Panthers aren’t legitimate title hopes again this year.

On paper, it’s hard to go past Penrith in this Round 9 fixture. It’s equally hard to imagine the Rabbitohs coming back from that thumping to the Storm down at AAMI Park on ANZAC Day.

But one thing that would give Souths hope is that they still scored 20 points and four tries in what is one of the NRL’s toughest road trips.

There was a period in the second half that would have had Demetriou equally happy and frustrated, pondering why such a stand couldn’t have happened earlier.

Panthers hooker Mitch Kenny. Photo: NRL Photos.

There’s no doubt Penrith’s defence, which has typically conceded two tries a game for much of the premiership run, has been a little easier to penetrate this year, and if the Rabbitohs can get a roll on, they’d fancy themselves a chance of piling on some points and building a potentially unassailable lead.

It should also be noted that the Panthers have had a tough turnaround heading into this Thursday night fixture, travelling from Townsville late on Sunday night back into Sydney and then straight into preparations for their next match. There could well be some weary legs as the 80 minutes rolls on.

The question for Souths is simple: What are you playing for now? Surely, they haven’t given up on the season – and they’re technically only two wins out of the top eight despite sitting in last spot.

It feels like a long way up from where the Rabbitohs sit but every journey must start somewhere, and I don’t think Souths are simply going to surrender this one as they desperately try to save their season.

Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo. Photo: NRL Images.

That said, if Penrith produce the type of grit and determination they did against North Queensland, they’ll be hard to stop.

A few less errors though, especially coming out of trouble, will be needed to ensure another victory.

I’m tipping this one will be a little tighter than many expect, but Penrith should be too classy in the end.

Tip: Panthers by 10.

Penrith and South Sydney play at Accor Stadium on Thursday, May 2 at 7.50pm. The game is live on Channel Nine and Fox League.

Troy Dodds

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.

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