It’s a luxury few teams can afford at this time of the season, but no matter the result in Wednesday’s State of Origin decider, reports suggest the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers will be giving their Origin contingent a week off to recover before the run to the finals.
That means the Panthers are likely to head into their Round 18 clash with Wests Tigers at Commbank Stadium missing Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Api Koroisau, Liam Martin, Jarome Luai and Isaah Yeo.
It’s not the first time this season that Penrith have dealt with this kind of impact on their squad.
Before Game 1 of the 2022 Origin series, the Panthers fielded a side missing all of those players but for Koroisau. Kurt Falls made his NRL debut, combining in the halves with Sean O’Sullivan as the premiers’ squad depth was put on display.
Though many saw the contest as a real opportunity for the Bulldogs to secure an upset, the makeshift Panthers barely skipped a beat, shooting out to a 22-6 half-time lead before cruising to a 30-18 victory.
It’s hard to see a different outcome against a Tigers team who find themselves in a similar situation this weekend.
Thanks to Gold Coast’s bye, the Tigers are now in last place on the ladder and reeling from a long losing streak despite minimal Origin impact, just as the Bulldogs were.
Meanwhile, Penrith are cruising. Six points clear with eight games to play, one loss to their name and streets ahead of everyone else, every week is another reminder of how far ahead they are.
Such is the array of weapons at Penrith's disposal they may even hand an NRL debut to Fijian speedster Sunia Turuva, who attracted plenty of admirers after a strong effort in the recent Pacific Test.
With the Tigers also offering weekly reminders of where they are both on the ladder and the field, it’s hard to see a fragmented squad in poor form securing an upset, no matter who takes the field for Penrith.