Beware the wounded Panther: Cleary’s men look to make amends

A dejected Penrith will look to bounce back against Manly. Photo: NRL Photos.
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Last Saturday night I walked into a time machine, and was taken back to somewhere around 2012.

Only 12,000-odd fans were at BlueBet Stadium, a huge contrast from the sell-out crowds of recent years.

The Panthers were ordinary, especially in the second half, and didn’t get the two competition points.

The atmosphere was non-existent and the crowd was half asleep.

Thankfully, the time machine can bring us back to current day pretty quickly.

But for those new Panthers fans among us, what happened last Saturday evening was pretty stock standard a decade or so ago. Those nights though always separate the real fans and the casual followers; so you do get something out of it.

There’s been plenty of harsh criticism of Penrith’s performance last Saturday, much of it from the side’s own supposedly loyal fans – many of whom don’t grasp the concept that sport is about winning and losing.

Tyrone Peachey does his best in defence last week. Photo: NRL Photos.

The Panthers’ performance was poor but we all know the contributing factors behind it. Wet weather, Origin stars missing, and a halfback clearly not quite ready to have returned from injury but doing his best to guide the side around the park.

Penrith have an opportunity to make amends for what happened last Saturday when they face Manly back at BlueBet Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Beware the wounded Panther. We saw just how well the side responded to the loss to the Warriors last month, bouncing back to thrash Cronulla less than seven days later.

The Panthers could well repeat that effort on Sunday, though much of the outcome may depend on just how many Origin stars back-up from Wednesday night’s brutal encounter at Accor Stadium. All have been named.

You’d like Brian To’o and Isaah Yeo in particular to be there; the work rate of those two makes such a significant difference to the way Penrith play.

Brian To’o celebrates a try against the Warriors. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Manly have been up and down like a yo-yo this season and while they’ve dropped games to the likes of the Dragons and Eels, they have managed to claim huge scalps like Melbourne and of course the Panthers earlier this year.

The Sea Eagles have a pretty ordinary record at BlueBet Stadium, having only won five of their 18 matches at the venue since the formation of the NRL in 1998.

And a huge concern for coach Anthony Seibold would be the side’s defence. They’ve conceded 263 points so far this season, the second worst of the current top eight teams.

But that performance against Melbourne a fortnight ago remains fresh in my mind and is enough to convince me the Sea Eagles will offer a pretty decent showing on Sunday afternoon.

Paul Alamoti tries to break through the Dragons’ defence. Photo: NRL Photos.

It was a gritty win, and with the match in doubt until the final siren sounded, Seibold would have been happy with the 80 minute performance.

You can’t read too much into Penrith’s loss to the Dragons on Saturday given the circumstances, but you’d like to see a more consistent Penrith team emerge through and after the Origin period.

Panthers fans shouldn’t be hitting the panic button, despite the desire of so many to do so. Despite all the challenges that have been thrown their way this year, the Panthers still sit in third place on the ladder and only one side has won more games than them this season. And they still boast the best defensive record in the competition.

A good performance against Manly on Sunday would put the train back on the right track heading into a clash against the struggling Knights and then another bye.

Lindsay Smith. Photo: NRL Photos.

I can’t see the Panthers dropping a second straight home game.

Tip: Panthers by 12.

Penrith and Manly play at BlueBet Stadium on Sunday, June 9 at 4.05pm. The game is live on Fox League and Channel Nine.

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