The Penrith Panthers picked up where they left off in 2021, placing themselves squarely in the premiership race. Nestled nicely in the top two, the question now is whether they can turn their good form into a premiership.
Snapshot of the season
The Penrith Panthers have been the standout side in 2021, with the side picking up right where they left off in 2020. They currently sit second on the ladder, only behind the Storm.
As a payoff for the teams, success seven Panthers were selected for Origin one, leading to a depleted team over the Origin period. Halves combo Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary are also due to spend time on the sidelines, which will be a massive challenge for the team. After a great start to the season, the Panthers are looking at a deep finals run.
What has worked
For the first 12 games of the season, whenever a Panther touched the ball, the play turned to gold. The most remarkable part of the 12-0 run was the margin of victory. In three matches, they managed to keep their opponents scoreless.
While Melbourne Storm may be the premiership favourites, the Panthers are running a hot second and are right on the Storms tail.
Young winger Brian To’o has been a revelation this season, making his State of Origin debut. What has been most impressive has been To’o’s ability to run the ball. He is ranked first in the NRL for metres run with 3,287, to go along with eight tries. At only 22 years of age, To’o will be a superstar of the game for the next decade.
The father and son combination of coach Ivan and captain Nathan Cleary has worked wonders for the team. Before Nathans’s shoulder injury, he was unstoppable, seemingly going to another level after taking on the co-captaincy of the side.
Cleary is currently ranked 5th in the NRL for tries scored with 17 from his 12 games. Amazingly he is also second in the competition for overall points scored with 164. If the Panthers are to win the premiership, Cleary will need to hit the ground running on return from injury.
What has not worked
The Panthers are obviously playing extremely well. However, there are some aspects in which the side can improve. The depth of the side is somewhat of an issue. When the Origin players left, the side was decimated, and while it was expected, it was disappointing for Penrith fans.
While he has had a good season, Viliame Kikau has had a penalty and error problem. The big second rower currently sits in the top 10 in the NRL for errors made throughout the season. The only men ahead of him are wingers and fullbacks who carry the ball much more frequently.
To date, Kikau has had 18 errors, to go along with his nine penalties, a large number considering that he isn’t out there for the full 80 minutes. To take that next step into this great Penrith side, he needs to get these two issues under control, especially with the side heading towards finals.
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Who needs to lift?
The Panthers and Maroons Mr Fix It, Kurt Capewell, has a huge opportunity to take his game to the next level. Despite a good season across the board, including five tries and 313 tackles, Capewell needs to lift in the absence of Cleary and Luai.
With his ability to play at centre as well as in the front row, Capewell not only has the size and strength to provide big plays through the middle, but the speed and finesse to help Matt Burton, Tyrone May and Isaah Yeo’s link play.
At 27, Capewell is now coming into his prime leadership years and having the captain of the side out will be his best shot at showing those skills. Capewell has demonstrated in the past he is a world-class player. If he can do that again in the back half of the season, the Panthers may well go all the way.
The Run Home
The Panthers are looking at one of the toughest runs home in the competition. The Panthers still need to take on the Storm, the Roosters, and the Eels. With the Panthers entrenched in the top four, they are sure to make finals at this point. The question for the run home is where the Panthers can finish. With the NRL moving to a Queensland hub, a home final may well be out of the question, but a double chance is still up for grabs.
|July 18th v Warriors||July 24th v Broncos|
|July 31st v Storm||August 7th v Roosters|
|August 13th v Dragons||August 20th v Rabbitohs|
|August 29th v West Tigers||September 3rd v Eels|
Can the Panthers play finals
With the Penrith Panthers now in the second position and equal on wins with the Storm, finals are guaranteed. What is most important for the Panthers is to secure the double chance. This will primarily come down to whether the Panthers can beat the Storm on the 31st of July, in what could very well be a grand final preview.
Players to return from injury/Origin
As State of Origin game three fast approaches expect the three that have started all series, Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo and Kurt Capewell to be possibly managed in the run to finals while Apisai Koroisau and Liam Martin’s may push through considering the lessened load.
On the injury front round 18 will see the return of, Dylan Edwards (foot) Paul Momirovski (hip) Robert Jennings (foot).
NSW representative Jarome Luai suffered a knee injury and is looking like coming back in round 20. However, Nathan Cleary is the primary injury, the length of time is still uncertain, and surgery may still need to be an option down the road. Form best estimates at the moment Cleary is looking at a round 20 comeback.
The Panthers have this weekend off and will next play against the Warriors on Sunday, the 18th of July. The kick-off will be at 2:00 pm.