Centre Dean Whare says Penrith are going to have to provide a repeat of their Round 9 defensive effort against Melbourne if they hope to beat Sydney Roosters at Centrebet Stadium on Friday night.
It was that game that kick-started the season for the Panthers. They had won just two games and lost six before meeting the Storm in a game the premiers were expected to win comfortably, despite being away from home. But the Panthers shocked them.
Three first-half tries, all scored by wingers – David Simmons, two, and Travis Robinson – put the home side on a roll, and they backed up their attack by keeping the Storm to zero for the first 40 minutes.
It could have been even better for Penrith had normally accurate goalkicker Luke Walsh added the extras, but the halfback missed all three conversion attempts and the Panthers led 12-0 at halftime instead of potentially 18-0.
As the Panthers would have expected, Melbourne came back hard at them after halftime, and after scoring two tries the Storm were trailing just 12-10 midway the second half.
But that was also the final score, after the Panthers had defended with all their might to hold the Storm out from there.
It was the beginning of a run that saw the Panthers win six out of eight games and enter the top eight, but after losses in their last two games against Newcastle (32-14) and Cronulla (38-10) they are on the outside looking in again.
Penrith are in 10th place, on 20 competition points. The Roosters are in second, on 32. Whare says the Panthers know they are in for a battle on Friday.
"The Roosters' defence is something they've improved on a lot," Whare said. "They're playing as a team at the moment, playing for each other. They've got each other's back and it's a credit to them, what they're doing.
"It's like it was when I was at Manly. They were big on defence, and it was a similar attitude there, among the boys. They had trust in each other. They had been together for a long time, and they had a good leadership group and the leaders led by example."
Whare says the Panthers are building a strong culture themselves under coach Ivan Cleary, who is in his second year at the club, and that they are going to have to show that if they want to have any chance of beating the Roosters, who have the best defence in the competition.
"Now it's about being consistent, for us," he said. "We're in and out of games sometimes, and you can't afford to keep doing that. Time together on the field will hopefully make us better.
"We're going to have to put in one of our very best defensive performances against the Roosters. We've got to play like we played against Melbourne. Our defence was great then, we built something good.
"We've had a few players in and out of the team because of injury since then, and Nigel Plum has been a massive loss for us because he's a big key in our defence. But we have to rise above that, and the positive is that a few of the boys who have come in have been good for us.
"I think it's about just getting used to producing the right level of intensity each week. The Melbourne game was a tough one, but we came up again straight away and won the following week. It's about doing that every week.
"We've got some young fellows in the team and it's a tough ask for them, but the more games they play the more confident they get. It's just an attitude thing – you've got to try to turn up for each game with a strong defensive effort.
"I think we'll be bringing that mentality we had against Melbourne to this game. It's got to be a big defensive effort, but also, in attack, we've got to complete our sets and kick well. You've got to make the Roosters work hard."
Whare is a very unselfish player. There have been a number of times this season when he probably would have scored himself but passed to winger David Simmons to make sure of it. Whare has four tries in 18 games, and Simmons 15 in 18. But Whare says it's all about the team.
"For me, it's about trying to make it easier for my winger and for the team," he said. "A few times I could have scored, but the best option was to get it to my winger, and I think David and I have had a great combination that's getting better each week."