Interesting game here and not just because of the usual reasons. Yes, the Panthers have an opportunity to sneak into the Top 8, or take a step closer to it at least, if they can win their fifth in a row. The Tigers have shown in the last two weeks especially that they shouldn’t be taken lightly and could cause Penrith more than a few problems, if given the chance. But then we have the Cleary family. One being the Top Tiger. The other, a young Panther with great expectations thrust upon him.
LAST TIME OUT
The Panthers hammered in another nail into Canterbury’s finals hopes last week, which have now been given the last rites, in a display that wasn’t exactly perfect but it got the job done. A couple of opportunistic tries from kicks definitely helped the cause, but their attack still doesn’t look anywhere near as threatening as the 2016 version. But this was their fourth win on the trot, and that is nothing to sneeze at.
The Wests Tigers travelled up to the Gold Coast and set the tone of the game early with a beautifully executed backline movement that struck gold within three minutes. The Tigers had looked like they had been building up to this kind of performance and the Titans practically asked them to put one on. The weight of possession was telling in the end, but credit where it’s due, the Tigers did what a team should do in the circumstances. They won, and they won well.
It’s weird. They both know it and they’ve both said it. But it is going to happen come Sunday. Cleary the father, and coach of the Wests Tigers, takes on Cleary the son, and Penrith’s young gun halfback. And you better believe it, the stakes are high. Not just in the Cleary household, but if the Panthers can get a win here, and the Sea Eagles fall to the Roosters, Penrith will find themselves in the Top 8 and Manly would have fallen dramatically out of it.
But are the Cleary’s looking forward to going head to head? They’re trying to, but no, not really.
“I’ve been thinking about it a bit the last couple of days,” said Tigers Head Coach Ivan. “You’ve just got to enjoy it, but I’ve got to say I haven’t really been looking forward to it. It’s pretty weird on a number of fronts.”
Panthers halfback, Nathan, has similar sentiments. “Dad knows my game best so it’s weird he will be trying to take me down this week.”
And there is the rub. Ivan knows Nathan’s game well but the Panthers game plan isn’t all about Nathan. As good as he is becoming, there are other players who can hurt the Tigers. Nathan on the other hand will know all about Ivan’s philosophies, tendencies and priorities when it comes to his Tigers team. Which is the bigger advantage?
Even with the storyline of the Cleary household, this isn’t a cut and dried game by any stretch. The Panthers are learning how to win again, even when they don’t play particularly well as in last week’s case. But they are getting the job done. The Tigers are starting to show us that Ivan’s message is getting across. They are looking better and got the rewards for it last week. They will want to back it up here.
Expecting a close one, but leaning to the visitors as the pressure won’t be on them. And so far, the Panthers haven’t enjoyed the weight of any expectation.
Wests Tigers by 4
Panthers v Wests Tigers, Sunday 6 August, 4.00pm at Pepper Stadium
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Moses Leota 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. James Fisher-Harris 18. Matt Moylan 19. Dean Whare 20. Viliame Kikau 21. Sitaleki Akauola
Wests Tigers: 1. James Tedesco 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 4. Kevin Naiqama 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Tuimoala Lolohea 7. Luke Brooks 8. Aaron Woods 9. Matt McIlwrick 10. Tim Grant 11. Chris Lawrence 12. Elijah Taylor 13. Matthew Eisenhuth 14. Alex Twal 15. Sauaso Sue 16. Michael Chee-Kam 17. Jack Littlejohn 18. Josh Aloiai 19. Jj Felise 20. Joel Edwards 21. Ava Seumanufagai