The Panthers bounced the heavily favoured Warriors from the competition last Saturday afternoon keeping their 2018 title hopes alive.
They will “travel” to Allianz to play the Sharks tonight in what shapes as a monster game.
We take a look at why the Panthers fans should be excited for a late-season run and also why they perhaps should not.
Why They Can Win The Title:
– James Maloney: Simply put the superstar number six knows how to win. He has title wins at the Roosters and the Sharks to his name as well as another Grand Final with the Warriors (and with the Storm although his worth to the team wasn’t the same as the other three sides) and an Origin series win. The Panthers looked shot against the Warriors last weekend until Maloney’s 40/20 turned the momentum and the game. From there the Panthers took over and Maloney went to work.
– Monster pack: When Viliame Kikau, Trent Merrin, James Tamou, RCG and co get on top of you it is VERY difficult to turn that tide. If they get a roll on early in tonight’s game then the Sharks are in all sorts. Kikau will be running at Matt Moylan all night while the Panthers’ middle men will be targeting young Jayden Brailey. If the Panthers pack wins the battle tonight and moving forward, the Panthers are going to be hard to stop. If they don’t get on top early, it’s not the end of the battle as this pack has turned momentum late on multiple occasions leading to last minute wins for their side.
– Origin ability: The aforementioned Maloney is not the only route of attack this Panthers side boasts. His fellow Origin halves partner Nathan Cleary is finding some amazing form at the right end of the season. Josh Mansour will be used as a battering ram early in sets and can finish the almost impossible at the attacking end of the field. Throw in Origin forwards Tamou, Merrin, Tyrone Peachey (from centre) and RCG and this side breams with talent.
Why They Can’t Win The Title:
– Inconsistency: You never really know which Panthers team will turn up; the attacking flair on the back of a dominant forward pack or the side who has you pulling hair out and asking how they are allowed to play the game professionally. If the Panthers of the past two weeks turns up they are right in this, but there is absolutely no guarantee of that happening. Their month prior to coming into the finals was dead set awful.
– Rookie coach: If this game tonight comes down to the coach’s abilities, I’m backing the premiership winning Shane Flanagan in every time. Then it’s Craig Bellamy awaiting if they can trump the Sharks. Cameron Ciraldo has done well to bring his fractured club and side together but he has been in the top job for near on a month. Flanagan has the better part of a decade under his belt. Bellamy is the best coach of the modern era. Talk about baptism of fire for young Cameron.
– Ill discipline: James Maloney is arguably the best attacking half in the competition but he’s also amongst the worst defensively. If he loses his head and gives away penalties or turns over possession the Panthers are set back to a huge degree. The Sharks will know after his 2017 efforts. Maloney lost his head in the finals clash with the Cowboys and the Sharks were bounced as a result. They will target him all night. Paul Gallen’s comments were the beginning. You have to believe Cam Smith and co will also have a game plan to upset the Panthers gun. Merrin, RCG and Tamou also have a penalty or two in them.
If the Panthers play to their ability, keep their head, and complete at 80/85% minimum, they’re right in this competition.
Unfortunately for fans and tipsters, we have no idea which Panthers side will turn up and likely won’t know until the 20/25 minute mark.