Panthers face desperate Knights in Sunday showdown

Brian To'o scores for Penrith last week. Photo: NRL Photos.
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The Panthers head to Newcastle this Sunday with a renewed confidence after bouncing back from a horror performance against the Dragons to beat the Sea Eagles last Sunday at BlueBet Stadium.

The 32-22 victory was a relief to players and fans alike but still exposed a few chinks in the armour as Penrith’s Premiership defence rolls on.

While the Panthers still have the best defensive record in the competition heading in to Round 15, gone are the days where you could trust Penrith to concede a maximum of two tries in a game, their steel-like defence a key factor in three straight Premierships.

Worrying of late in particular is the defensive lapses of Izack Tago and Sunia Turuva, Tago in particular found all at sea against Manly last Sunday with Tommy Talau having a field day down the Penrith right side.

And it’s not only in defence where Tago is having some trouble – he’s got 20 errors next to his name this season, and leads the competition in penalties conceded with 14. Something just isn’t right there at the moment, but you’ve got to have confidence that a player as good as Tago can get it sorted before the business end of the season arrives.

Izack Tago in action against Manly. Photo: NRL Photos.

The Panthers welcome back Dylan Edwards and possibly Liam Martin this week, Edwards having one last opportunity to prove to New South Wales coach Michael Maguire that he had it right the first time around when selecting him at fullback for Origin I. A trouble-free performance should see him get the opportunity that so cruelly evaded him at Accor Stadium.

There is no question Martin will be there for game two of Origin and we’d love to see him bring some of the aggression he brought to the biggest stage last week back to his club football. Martin has been a little quiet for Penrith this year but proved in a blue jumper he’s still got that ferocious spirit that makes him one of the best second-rowers in the game.

So what do we make of this Newcastle team of 2024?

With so much hope for a solid season, Adam O’Brien’s side finds itself sitting in 13th spot on the ladder and in real danger of missing the Finals if they don’t string wins together soon. They were tough against the Storm last week but in the end, their leaky defence let them down.

O’Brien has struggled all year to nail down the team line-up and find the right combinations. The constant switches in the halves have only shown more uncertainty.

Dylan Edwards in action against Canterbury. Photo: Megan Dunn.

At home on a Sunday afternoon, however, the Knights would rate themselves a chance against a Penrith side that has proven itself beatable at times this year, including by sides outside of the eight.

The key will be to put pressure on Penrith through the middle and to somehow stop the side’s powerful running game, which was on show in spades against the Sea Eagles.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the Knights have made more tackles than any other club this season. They put themselves under pressure far too much, and no side giving up that much ball can get the momentum needed to win games consistently.

If Newcastle can deliver a solid completion rate and get their fair share of field position, they’ll be a chance of winning this one.

But ahead of a bye and with Edwards and Martin back in the side, the Panthers should have too much class here.

Tip: Panthers by 14.

Penrith and Newcastle play at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday, June 16 at 4.05pm. The game is live on Fox League and Kayo.

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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