Defeats for rivals Manly and South Sydney earlier in the weekend has opened the door for Penrith Panthers to make a run for the NRL Minor Premiership. A win over Melbourne Storm on Monday night will draw the Panthers level with Manly, setting up perfectly a showdown between the two next weekend at Brookvale Oval.
It will take a big performance to get the points against the Storm, who have been the most consistent team in the NRL over the last decade. This is the kind of game that it would appear the Panthers must win before the majority of pundits will finally take them seriously, although last week’s win over the in-form Cowboys went some way to answering their doubters.
The reluctance to back the Panthers is summarised by their long odds in the betting markets compared to those around them. Going into the weekend Penrith were rated at around $14.00 for the NRL Premiership. That was nearly four times more than the Rabbitohs, with whom they are level on points, and three times more than the Roosters who sat one place below them. You had to go down to ninth placed Parramatta to find a side offered at longer odds.
Penrith have managed to maintain a challenge despite their injury list increasing on an almost weekly basis. The likes of Elijah Taylor and captain Peter Wallace are among those already ruled out for the rest of year.
Jamie Soward has repaid the faith shown in him by Phil Gould and Ivan Cleary with a return to his best form. He has always been a player who put in solid displays and stuck to a game plan, but his performance against the Cowboys had moments of flair not usually associated with his game.
The Storm face a difficult week with back to back away games in Sydney. Following the Monday night game in Penrith they face the Roosters on Saturday night at Allianz Stadium. With a finals spot still not guaranteed, expect their big players to step up to the mark when it matters, as they always seem to do.
Monday 25th August, Sportingbet Stadium Penrith 19:00
Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm