Taming the Panthers

ROUND 25 of the NRL is upon us this weekend and with only three games remaining prior to the commencement of the Finals Series, the question looming large is whether there is a legitimate contender to tame our home town Penrith Panthers.

This season is unfolding in a very similar fashion for the men in black with a solid start, a lot of moving parts during the State of Origin period
and a gradual up tick heading into the Finals

So who in reality can beat them on the big stage? Interestingly with the Panthers having contested the last three Grand Finals (2020, 2021 and 2022) they have only faced off against four different teams across that span of three Finals Series and ten games: Roosters – 1, Storm – 2, Eels – 3 and Rabbitohs – 4. With the only losses in that sequence to the Storm in the 2020 Grand Final and Rabbitohs in Week 1 of the 2021 Finals Series. They are currently on an unbeaten run of six Finals games. A remarkable record.

With this information in mind it is interesting to note the teams who have made a run in the last 18 months who are yet to face the Panthers in a big Finals match. 

The Cowboys were home preliminary finalists in 2022 before going down to the Eels in a nail biter. They certainly have the attacking ability to trouble the Panthers. But my concern with them is having the ability to stick with the Panthers during long sequences of play without stoppages, they will also need to significantly improve their defence.

A lot of experts want to tell you why the Broncos cannot win the competition. But rarely do they provide a reason that holds water. The fact is the Broncos have gone with the Panthers all year. They sit on equal competition points and have 17 wins currently to the Panthers 16. They defeated the Panthers in Round 1. When you look at their roster it is stacked with quality youth but more importantly with experience in big games. If they attack Penrith with their open style and get conditions and refereeing to suit they will be a significant challenge for the Panthers to overcome.

There are a few wildcards. The Warriors are another team who are well balanced with youth and experience. The Warriors have their own style and they are defending extremely well. The Rabbitohs have really wobbled in the last two months but there is no doubt they have the talent… but do they have the discipline across 80 minutes to beat the Panthers? Time will tell… The Storm? If Papenhauzen is back can he lift them to challenger status? I think not, mainly due to the lack of punch in their forward pack to provide a platform of good forward for their sharp spine.

There are a cluster of other teams including the Sharks, Raiders, Knights and Eels who I do not think have shown the consistency against the top teams to challenge and make some noise in this seasons Finals Series. 

All in all I think the Panthers are sitting in the box seat. But what excites me as a neutral is that we will see them challenged by some new blood this year in the Broncos, Warriors and Cowboys.