I was at Penrith to watch what the Panthers did to Melbourne Storm and I still don’t believe what I saw. The Panthers have been struggling all year, but they put together a tough and determined 80 minutes of no-nonsense football that was enough to rattle the reigning champions.
Following on from their shock defeat to Canberra the weekend before, the Storm were knocked off their game by some brutal, in-your-face defensive work from the men in the chocolate jerseys. Captain Cameron Smith said after the game that every team seems to aim up at the premiers. Teams have always looked to mark their progress with a big game when they come up against the team that won the previous year. It’s part of the reason why no team has won back-to-back titles since Brisbane in the 1990s.
Things don’t get any easier for Melbourne with games against Manly and Sydney Roosters before the State of Origin series robs them of their best players. They couldn’t have come up against Manly at a better time though, with injuries and a series of brutal battles taking its toll on the Sea Eagles. I was surprised that the Sea Eagles were in the game for as long as they were against the Roosters, but they are just such a tough bunch of blokes.
When Roosters hard man Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was sent from the field the Sea Eagles were in with a great chance of pinching the points. To their credit the Roosters muscled up and scored a match-sealing try. There has been some talk over whether Waerea-Hargreaves deserved to be marched for his hit on George Rose. One thing that convinced me that the decision was correct was the time and distance he had before making contact. Rose charged almost 15 metres at the defence and Waerea-Hargreaves had plenty of time to take aim. He went high, his arm bounced up, but it collected Rose square in the chops and he deserved to go.
The Roosters now face the hot and cold Cowboys without Waerea-Hargreaves and it won’t be easy for them. The Cowboys have been struggling out of dummy-half and are lacking the spark they need from that position. They still have the talent across the field to trouble any side and they really should improve on their current tenth position on the ladder.
Two teams which will definitely make their way up the ladder as the season reaches the pointy end will be Canberra and Canterbury. The Raiders have been really impressive lately on the back of some red-hot form from Blake Ferguson and half Josh McCrone. They put the sword to Newcastle in the second half, but the Knights were woeful after the break. Coach Wayne Bennett wasn’t happy and he would have made it very clear during this week that their performance just wasn’t good enough.
The Knights take on the Bulldogs on what is always a huge Sunday afternoon in Newcastle. The Knights love their Sunday afternoon football and so do their fans and it should be a full house. The Bulldogs are still only playing at about 70 percent of the ability we saw from them last year. But each week another piece of the puzzle fits in and they look a little better. This week Krisnan Inu returns to the centres after suspension. The Bulldogs haven’t been missing his goal kicking with Trent Hodkinson doing an incredible job, but he does bring experience to the centres and was a key part of their charge to the grand final last year. It will be interesting to see how the Knights bounce back at home after last week’s performance – it should be a great game.