In rugby league, all we ever want to do is compare current teams to the great teams of the past.
That is not fair to the current teams because the greatest teams in history built their own empires and it’s too much to live up to.
But yesterday at a sundrenched Pepper Stadium, the Penrith Panthers impressed against a much bigger Canterbury-Bankstown outfit. So much so that it got this writer thinking back to the 2005 Wests Tigers.
Here it comes, another comparison to the great underdog team of the modern era. When you think about it a little more, you almost have to say that this Panthers team is already a better team than that Wests Tigers squad.
The Panthers were brilliant on Sunday, quick play-the-balls, offloads, quick shifts between forwards and all the while giving up kilograms upon kilograms to the giant Bulldogs. The backs were slick and their first-half try where Dallin-Watene Zelezniak scored in the corner after magical hands from the inside was eerily similar to the Tigers.
Penrith are in a wonderful place and we’ve only had eighty minutes of footy. It’s easy to forget that the Bulldogs made a late surge scoring three tries in the final ten minutes.
“Fatigue’s an issue. The reality is in today’s game, if you lose momentum … they [Bulldogs] had nothing to lose,” Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said after the win.
“Playing the Bulldogs when they have nothing to lose, there’s not too many teams more dangerous. They are a big side coming off the bench and everything seemed to be going their way at that time. My issue is allowing that momentum to change in the first place but we’ll move on and hopefully learn from the experience without having to lose.”
Like the Tigers, Penrith know that a good offense is the best defence and all you need to do in rugby league is score more points than the opposition.
When you skim through the 2005 Tigers and the 2015 Panthers, there are similarities but in the key positions, Penrith are stronger for different reasons.
Ten years ago, Wests had a guy called Brett Hodgson at full-back and he shares many of the same traits with rising superstar Matt Moylan. Like Hodgson, Moylan can break a defensive line open from his own end, play as an extra playmaker, kick goals and win a game with or without the ball.
Robbie Farah might be one of the premier hookers in the game today, but Penrith’s James Segeyaro is fast approaching and in 2005, Farah was a rookie and nothing like the player he has become. In broken play, Segeyaro also has a turn of speed and a natural strength Farah could only dream off.
The real difference however comes in the halves.
Back in 2005, the Tigers held two attacking weapons that sent shudders down the spines of defensive coaches across the league. Scott Prince and Benji Marshall were young, brash and confident enough to do things neither was ever able to emulate again. It worked perfectly though with experienced journeymen littering the Wests squad.
For the Panthers, it’s the reverse. They’re experience, they’re leaders are the halves.
When fit and inform there are no better tacticians in the game than Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace. Now what happens when you surround Soward and Wallace with some of the most exciting youngsters in rugby league?
Bryce Cartwright, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Tyrone Peachey, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, George Jennings, Isaah Yeo, Adam Docker, Apisai Koroisau, Moylan and Segeyaro.
Then on top of that throw in Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, Elijah Taylor, Sika Manu, Sam McKendry, Lewis Brown and Josh Mansour.
The Panthers are in a better position now than the Tigers ever were and after only eighty minutes, that’s a scary prospect.
Tigers’ 2005 Team
1 Brett Hodgson
2 Daniel Fitzhenry
3 Shane Elford
4 Paul Whatuira
5 Pat Richards
6 Benji Marshall
7 Scott Prince
8 Anthony Laffranchi
9 Robbie Farah
10 John Skandalis
11 Ben Galea
12 Mark O’Neill
13 Dene Halatau
14 Liam Fulton
15 Chris Heighington
16 Bryce Gibbs
17 Todd Payten
Panthers’ Round 1 2015 Team
1 Matt Moylan
2 George Jennings
3 Dean Whare
4 Jamal Idris
5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
6 Jamie Soward
7 Peter Wallace
8 Sam McKendry
9 James Segeyaro
10 Brent Kite
11 Sika Manu
12 Lewis Brown
13 Elijah Taylor
14 Tyrone Peachey
15 Jeremy Latimore
16 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
17 Bryce Cartwright