Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has warned his team about the pitfalls of looking too far ahead after watching his side fall to Cronulla 18-16 in Bathurst
on Saturday afternoon.
Not only did Cleary suggest that his side might've had one eye already on the finals, but he also believed Carrington Park's heavy track played a part in Penrith's lacklustre performance, too.
"I had a chat with someone yesterday about the possibility of some upgrades to the ground," Cleary said post-game.
"I think the first one might be the field as something to look into. It's not really what the boys are used to playing in. That's probably got some affect, but there's no excuses either.
While no games were played on the ground in the month prior to the match, a heavy downpour in the lead-up – along with the two curtain-raisers on game day – contributed to a groggy surface that the Sharks weren't too fond of either.
"It was a tough game to play and the conditions weren't ideal. It was pretty chewed up there from the two previous games," said Cronulla skipper Wade Graham.
Cleary, however, was far more concerned about his team's lack of urgency against a Cronulla side already out of finals reckoning.
The surprise defeat – it was also the first time they lost back-to-back games this year – means Penrith could fall as low as fourth by the end of the weekend, ahead of next Friday's blockbuster against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
"You just want to finish as high as you can but I think if we start looking too far ahead, which we [might have], you can lose your way," he said.
"The reality is, and what we've seen over the last few weeks in the competition, it's such a tight comp. It's been like that the whole year.
"We've seen enough upsets for everyone to understand that if you start looking too far ahead and trying to work out who might finish where or whatnot, you might just take your eye off the ball. At this point, we've just lost two in a row, so the next focus is making sure we play well next week."
In response to last week's heavy defeat to the Roosters, Cleary shifted big man Jamal Idris out of the three-quarter line and into the forwards in a sign that the former Warriors mentor remained unsure of his best 17.
"We're still a new team so we're still trying to work our combinations and our best team," he said.
"It's just another section of the season. Disappointing couple of weeks for us really, but that's all part of it. We've got to bounce back and move on.
"I guess the next six weeks is the time when you want to be climbing into your best football as opposed to going the other way. So hopefully we can just I guess sort ourselves out quickly and look forward to the next six games."
While both teams weren't overly happy with the conditions, Cleary backed the club's initiative to move games to the central-western NSW town. Saturday's game was the first of a five-year deal to host NRL games at the venue.
Asked whether he would change anything in preparation for a game in Bathurst next year, Cleary said: "Not really. The result, hopefully. We're happy to do it. I think some other clubs should [take the] initiative as well.
"Supporting country areas is important, you can just tell by the whole week how... the mood in the town is really good. Obviously everyone's turned out and supported the event. And [we] look forward to doing it again next year."
Penrith captain Peter Wallace came off early in the match with a knee concern but returned before halftime and finished the match. The halfback was just 16 minutes into his comeback from another knee problem on his other leg, and is set for scans on Monday.