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What's wrong with the Panthers?

Penrith hasn't scored a point now for three hours of NRL footy and have lost their past two games 30-0.

As a Panthers director and someone involved with the club for nearly 30 years, it hasn’t been that enjoyable to watch.

But I cannot file columns each week criticising and questioning rival teams while allowing Penrith a free reign. So in the spirit of fairness, I will today try and explain why the club is struggling so badly through the early part of 2012.

Unlike two other western Sydney clubs, Penrith didn't start this season with enormous expectations. We should note that. Wests Tigers were competition favourites and Parramatta – buoyed by Chris Sandow's signing – were ready to make a major impact.

But that doesn't excuse Penrith for their poor start.

When your team has a poor performance, you desperately want them to play strongly the following week so the focus shifts away. That hasn't happened. We were beaten 30-0 by Manly and then copped the same scoreline against Wests Tigers.

It isn't good enough. We all know that.

The natural thing to do here would be to point the finger squarely at the coach. Let me say this – Ivan Cleary is a doing a good job. During the off-season and pre-season he introduced a completely different feel to the club. It was a change we had to have. The joint was a little stale and we needed a new coach with new ideas. Ivan has brought those to Centrebet Stadium.

Injuries occur to every side in the NRL, some though are better equipped to handle them. Depth is a concern at Penrith and that has been shown up over the opening rounds. We have lost guys like Michael Jennings, Michael Gordon, Tim Grant and Kevin Kingston to injury.

They are all key players, with Jennings and Gordon our strike weapons. The salary cap has stretched the depth of each and every club and Penrith is certainly no different.

I hate picking out individual players but I think our halfback, Luke Walsh, has been down a little with his form.

And I say that because I know just what a good player he can be. We definitely need more from him when the Panthers have the footy.

The club's attitude has been good – there are no complaints there. We are just missing blokes who can give us more tryscoring opportunities.

Ivan has inherited this side and no doubt will make subtle changes going forward.

Cleary is at Penrith for the long haul and I have no doubt he will bring us success. Fans just have to be a little patient. It hasn't all been doom and gloom.

Lachlan Coote has been terrific from fullback and Jennings should be an automatic selection at left centre for NSW.

And what about Luke Lewis? He just keeps getting better. He will go down as one of Penrith's greatest payers but he cannot do it all on his own. The emergence of Blake Austin as a genuine first grader is also a positive.

The Panthers will be back this year. I am not going to make any bold predictions, every team goes through rocky periods during a long NRL season.

But one thing I know: Penrith has never backed away from adversity or a challenge. And I don't expect 2012 to be any different.


A lot has been written and said about rugby league's wrestling and whether the game is boring. We do seem to be in a period where the balance between attack and defence is slightly out of kilter, allowing defence to dominate. There is a number of contributing factors for this and it isn’t just the wrestle.

But let’s look at that first and there does seem to be some confusion about the meaning of the wrestle in 2012 - the wrestle we see this year is different from the wrestle of previous years.

In past seasons, the wrestle was fought and won on the ground. This year, the players are standing up during the wrestle.

It is like blokes waltzing around the field. NRL referee's coach Bill Harrigan has been told to fix the problem but it isn't quite that easy.

By wrestling standing up, defenders aren't doing anything illegal.

As for the game being boring, yes, there have been some tedious games... but I don’t know if its more than previous seasons. One easy way to elevate the boring games is by getting coaches to stop their teams playing safety-first negative footy.

Coaches seem to be the first to bag negative tactics – but they all employ them at the same time.

The coaches may well be surprised that their teams can still win by playing attractive football.

I think the 10 metres at times this year has been skinny – and it does seem that defensive lines are being allowed to leave early. This is definitely having an impact on the time the attacking team have, and while the wrestle might be a problem harder to solve, the adjudicating on what happens with the 10 metres can be solved pretty quickly.

Reducing the interchange is another remedy to even out the balance again, however we need to be careful we don’t tip the scales to far the other way in favour of the attack.

We have a $1 billion television deal looming – I just hope the coaches, referees and administrators all do their jobs and get the mix right so we see some exciting football before the networks start to drop their bid prices.


Finally, what a game Friday night promises to be – Des Hasler versus Manly.

Hasler's departure last year shocked everyone, and this game has been circled on the NRL calendar ever since.

Manly fans remain angry that Hasler walked away and took some of the coaching staff to Canterbury.

But let me say one thing: Hasler coached Manly to two premierships and stands alongside fellow dual premiership-winning Sea Eagles coaches Bob Fulton, Frank Stanton and Ron Willey.

Whether Manly supporters like Hasler or not for his decision, he will always be regarded as a legend at Brookvale. That shouldn't be forgotten.

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