BY CURTIS WOODWARD
The Penrith Panthers have gone from a premiership heavyweight and a hot favourite for the title to a side languishing at the wrong end of the top 8. Some say they’re gone. They can’t win. But don’t count them out yet.
We all know the dramas that have devoured Penrith at the back end of the season. They did, after all, sack their coach with just four rounds remaining and the playoffs around the corner. Despite beating Manly-Warringah and Canberra in consecutive weeks, the Panthers axed Anthony Griffin.
The following week they escaped the Gold Coast with a 17-16 win before losses to Newcastle and the Warriors in Auckland.
It doesn’t get any easier for them in round 25 with a trip to AAMI Park and a clash with the Melbourne Storm.
How could they possibly get out of this?
New coach Cameron Ciraldo – like anyone trying to put their own stamp on a side – would be desperate to mold the team to his vision. Unfortunately for him, it’s too late in the season. The Panthers must go back to what made them so great earlier in the year.
One game stands out above all others.
It feels like a lifetime ago but Penrith have to sit down and re-watch their round four win over North Queensland in Townsville.
After a frustrating 2-1 start to the season, the Panthers headed north and completely outmuscled the Cowboys.
They walked into Jason Taumalolo’s den, beat him and his mates up and ate their dinner. The Panthers were awesome. Their pack looked indestructible. It was a scary sight and it put the rest of the competition on alert.
Penrith’s pack has lost that edge.
You sensed opposition teams feared the Panthers engine room but now… nothing.
The Panthers won that night 33-14. Hell, even James Maloney was putting shots on. Coen Hess is still having nightmares.
What’s happened to the Penrith engine room?
Last weekend, they were thrashed by the Warriors 36-16 in a crunch match. They started the game boasting Trent Merrin, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Viliame Kikau and James Fisher-Harris up front. Yet, nothing. Barely a whimper. Funnily enough, all those guys started that night back in March against North QLD.
A few weeks later they hosted Canterbury-Bankstown in a spiteful Friday night affair. After all the niggle, all the scuffles, Penrith flexed their muscle and took the two points. They would have lost if the same scenario played out now.
There’s still time for Penrith but it can only come through their big men.
Your writer is not one to think that limping into the finals is good enough. Having the mindset that qualifying for the playoffs is the goal because it’s a whole new ball game in September is fraught with danger. Momentum is everything. The Panthers can start wrestling that momentum back this Friday against the Storm.
It’s time for these big name Penrith forwards to stand up.
If it doesn’t happen this Friday, the Panthers might as well start planning their Mad Monday now.