Daniel Nichols – The Battle For The Spoon

5 rounds into the 2013 season and it looks like it’s a three horse race for the Minor Premiership in the form of Melbourne, South Sydney, and Manly. Newcastle, Roosters and Cowboys fans would argue that their sides are well within the running but general consensus is that the top 3 sides are a class above, even at this early stage of proceedings.

The battle at the bottom of the table looks to also be a race in three with The Warriors, Panthers and Eels failing to live up to preseason hopes. The Eels had a good win over the Sharks on the weekend although much of that would have come from the emotion of the Johnny Mannah cup, and the need to bounce back from the previous weekend’s 50-0 thrashing at the hands of the Roosters.

In my season preview I predicted the Panthers would finish with the NRL’s most dreaded ‘award’ and I still believe their lack of genuine game breakers will prove costly. In Jennings, Lewis, and Michael Gordon they lost hundreds of games of NRL experience and the flair and talent to blow games wide open. In Sika Manu, Dean Whare and co they recruited solid NRL grade talent but no one who could be considered a game breaker.

Although the Warriors and Eels have hardly set the world on fire, they possess players of the ability of Jarryd Hayne, Chris Sandow, Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke, players who can create tries from anywhere at any time. The Warriors have arguably the best roster of the three teams however they are failing to gel as a team and Matthew Elliot will have to address this before they give other teams too much of a head start. The Warriors sit at the bottom of the table with one win in 2013, something they will look to build on when they travel to fellow strugglers Canberra. The Raiders will have far more confidence entering the contest after posting a fantastic comeback win over the highly fancied Roosters on Sunday night. Canberra are a different side at home, undefeated in 2013, and should account for the Warriors giving the Panthers the opportunity to go 2 points clear of the bottom of the table.

The Panthers were belted in every aspect of the game in their 30-0 loss to the Cowboys on Saturday Night and travel to play Newcastle at Hunter Stadium. All the money will be on the Knights to account for the Panthers leaving Penrith in a points-difference battle for 16th position. The Eels are the team most likely to trouble their opposition as they travel to the Gold Coast to play a Titans side that may be without their first choice halves Sezer and Kelly through injury. If the Eels can put back to back victories together and open a 4 points over The Panthers and Warriors that may already be enough to avoid the wooden spoon.

Of course it is still early and with doubts hanging over the playing future of the Cronulla Sharks and terrible starts to the season by the Dogs and Dragons amongst others, anything can still happen but I simply can’t see Penrith having enough to worry many sides this season. Halfback Luke Walsh was dropped to NSW Cup after a disappointing start to the season and will likely be rushed back after Humble and Blake Austin were found wanting in the loss to the Cowboys. If Twitter is any indication, the call for Captain Kevin Kingston to play reduced minutes are getting louder as support the James Segeyaro continues to swell. Kingston is a solid player and will tackle himself to exhaustion in each and every game however does not provide the spark from dummy half that seems to cost the Panthers.

A season ending injury to Lachlan Coote was terrible for Penrith fans as he was arguably the club’s best player in the round 1 win over the Raiders. Any club that loses one of its first choice halves will likely struggle. In Humble, Austin and Walsh the Panthers have three solid players, but solid won’t win premierships and unfortunately for Panthers fans I don’t believe solid will win many games this season. 2014 already looks brighter as the club will add Elijah Taylor and Brent Kite to their ranks; however once again, how many games each player is likely to single handedly win is up for serious debate.

The Panthers cleared the ranks and put in a huge bid for Johnathan Thurston which ultimately failed. With the list of available players diminishing by the day, Panthers fans will hope they will be able to land a marquee signing sooner rather than later. Rumours link the Panthers will nearly every big name player off contract at the end of 2013, so all signs indicate Gus Gould and Ivan Cleary will be active in the transfer market, perhaps through necessity more than anything else.

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