The Penrith Panthers loss to a Parramatta Eels team sputtering to the end of a disappointing season was, in itself, disappointing. Even accounting for the fact that the Panthers have been trying to cycle their regular starters out of the side in recent weeks to get players a week off here and there leading into the finals, the Panthers should have still beaten the Eels.
So, what does it mean for the Panthers quest to win three straight titles in a row?
The loss of Jarome Luai with a dislocated shoulder is a hammer blow. It’s injuries like that, which happen to every team on aq long enough time line, that usually make winning back-to-back titles so difficult, let alone going for a three-peat.
The best case scenario has Luai coming back into the side in the second last week of the finals series…maybe the Grand Final. That is going by the shoulder purely suffering a dislocation, with not other injuries to ligaments, tendons, muscles or the joint itself. Judging by what we all say of Luai being injured, I’d be shocked if is season isn’t over, which is such a shame.
The Panthers have so much forward depth, so that isn’t too much of an issue right now, however the Panthers halves and outside backs are looking really thin right now.
I look at Tyrone Peachey as the canary in the coal mine for the Panthers depth being tested. When the Panthers are at full strength, Peachey isn’t in the first grade team. Unfortunately right now, Peachey is a regular starter for the Panthers right now.
Losing Taylor May in a pre-season trial game for the entire season was rough. Izack Tago being out in recent weeks has really hurt. No Sunia Taruva, no Dylan Edwards, Jack Cogger starting at hooker for Mitch Kenny, Scott Sorensen out, Soni Luke not turning into the backup at hooker the club wanted him to be, and that is not even taking into account that you can see the effect on the clubs depth due to salary cap pressure on the sides NSW Cup team who were premiers themselves last year, and who are fighting just to make the finals this season.
Some of these things are big issues, some of the are annoyances, some are slight disappointments, but to win three titles in a row….eventually these things all take their toll.
The Panthers will no doubt rest a few players in their final round match against the Cowboys, and its possible the priority is just to get to the finals, that top two place on the ladder locked in, and hope that everyone short of Luai and May is fit for the finals and the club starts clicking again. It’s not ideal though….and once again, not ideal is why teams find it so hard to win consecutive titles.
The Panthers basically need everything to go right, and so far it has…..but is that all coming to an end before the finals kick off? Thats my concern.
This is now a huge test for the Panthers when just a few weeks ago they looked to be cruising.
I tend to think the Panthers will be fine. Week one most players will be back and fit and ready to rock. We’ve seen the Panthers can step it up when it really matters. We’ve seen them be able to take their game to another level, and when they do that, they look unbeatable.
The loss of Luis though, thats big. Thats a really huge hole in the side. Luai is a very tough defender, his footwork causes so many problems for opposition forwards, and he is one of the few players in the side that the Panthers have not really shown they have a decent backup for.
Luai haș a winning percentage that is ridiculously high for a very good reason. A winning percentage that is higher than Cleary, Yeo, Fisher-Harris, Edwards….any of the Panthers big guns. Thats not a coincidence, thats not a fluke. Losing Luai is massive.
The door might have just opened for opposition teams, and if the Panthers can win a third straight title from here it would be an even bigger achievement.
The cool thing is, we are going to get to see if they are up to it. We know they are a great side, but winning three Grand Finals in a row vaults you into a very exclusive list with a handful of teams that are considered the best ever.
If this Panthers side is THAT good…they will do it. We are going to find out if this squad can overcome a less than ideal run into the finals and a few big injuries and STILL win a third title in a row.
If you’re not excited to know that we are actually going to witness all of that, I don’t know what to tell you. That is what I love about watching Rugby League. Seeing great players and great teams put to the test. Seeing how they react. Seeing if they can rise above everything and still succeed.
Over to you Penrith…