Stakes high as Panthers and Tigers do battle in Bathurst

Panthers hooker Mitch Kenny. Photo: NRL Photos.
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Penrith and the Wests Tigers return to Carrington Park in Bathurst a year on from one of the biggest upsets of the 2023 NRL season, and this time the weather promises to be far different from the torrential rain that greeted the sides last year.

Ironically, as much as the Tigers have struggled in recent seasons and Penrith have made four straight Grand Finals, they’ve actually performed pretty well against the Panthers; usually due to extenuating circumstances like Origin drain or weather, but still, the results are on the board.

Where it helps Benji Marshall’s team is that the Tigers wouldn’t fear the Panthers all that much this Saturday. They don’t necessarily see them as the unbeatable team that some clubs probably do when they prepare to take on Ivan Cleary’s juggernaut.

One thing is for sure: both teams will have to improve from their last performance to grab the two points in Bathurst.

The Panthers and Tigers played in torrential rain in Bathurst last year. Photo: NRL Photos.

Marshall declared the Tigers’ performance against the Dragons last Sunday as the worst of the season and while the scoreboard suggests a narrow 12-point loss, anyone who saw the game would know the Tigers were very poor.

Penrith will be rested from the week off but the performance against Manly a fortnight ago certainly sent warning sirens blaring. Let’s hope it was simply a speedbump in the road and not a sign of things to come.

Nathan Cleary’s hamstring injury means he’ll sit out this one, a significant loss given most expected him to return after two games out.

It turns out the injury was harder to manage and get right than initially thought.

In some good team selection news, Scott Sorensen returns while Jarome Luai has brushed away any injury concerns.

Against Manly the Panthers showed signs of something that has not crept into their game at any stage of their three-year Premiership run: complacency.

The Panthers and Tigers tough it out in Bathurst last year. Photo: NRL Photos.

At times it appeared they just expected things to happen; and when they didn’t, they just didn’t have the energy or effort levels required to respond in any serious manner (except for Dylan Edwards, who is having one hell of a season).

On the surface, it’s an easy fix. We know the talent and ability is there, so it’ll come down to motivation.

The Tigers meantime have bigger problems, as they try to settle on a line-up that can get the job done consistently.

They do welcome back Lachlan Galvin on Saturday, a move that couldn’t come quick enough.

As much as this game isn’t desperation stakes given it falls in Round 7, the loser will without question be in some trouble. The Tigers are desperate to shrug off the struggles of the past and make the most of the Benji Marshall era, but last week’s performance would suggest they’ve learned little. If they end up getting thrashed by Penrith on Saturday, plenty will wonder if they’ve made much progress at all.

Brad Schneider will fill-in at halfback again. Photo: NRL Photos.

As for Penrith, while Cleary is out, there won’t be the excuses that have existed in previous years to fall to the Tigers. This is the perfect opportunity for the Panthers to make a statement that they are the deserved Premiership favourites.

Penrith has had a mixed relationship with the Bathurst game over the years. Here’s a chance to make it what it should be: a second home where the Panthers are dominant.

I think Penrith will be too strong.

Tip: Panthers by 14.

The Panthers and Tigers play on Saturday, April 20 at Carrington Park in Bathurst. The game is live on Fox League and Kayo.

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