We're match-hardened: Cleary
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary says his team will not fall into the trap of settling for a top four finish, and believes their tough run into the finals has them "match-hardened" for their qualifying final against the Roosters.
The Panthers eased past the Warriors 22-6 in the final game of the regular season on Sunday night, booking a date with the minor premiers where the mountain men will start as underdogs.
It's a remarkable rise for the perennial under-achievers, who get their first taste of September football in almost half a decade when they trek out to Allianz Stadium next Saturday night.
But Cleary refused to believe his team are now resting on their laurels.
"I think we had an opportunity three games ago, we cemented our spot in the eight, so we had a bit of time to at least absorb that," he said.
"And I think our performances over the last couple of weeks have shown that we're happy to keep testing ourselves against the best.
"I don't think there's an issue with it there. However we understand we're definitely heavy underdogs again next week. But that's not a bad time to be in either."
Given Jake Friend's unlikely return from a severe chest injury for the clash, as well as possible suspensions to key forwards Dylan Napa and Aiden Guerra, it is the best possible time for Cleary's depleted squad to take on the defending premiers.
"I don't know, who are they bringing in, some more rep players or something?" Cleary quipped.
"I think, on the match-ups stakes, it's not really worth doing. We'll just go down there and give it our best and try and make them beat us."
While the Roosters will have had an ample time to recover after their beat-down of the Rabbitohs last Thursday night, the Panthers will have just six days to prepare for what will be another bruising encounter against the Roosters.
But, after a tough final month that included hell-raisers against North Queensland, Melbourne and Manly, Cleary said his team was prepared for another big game.
"Six day [turnaround] for us, 9-10 for them or something. The last four times we've played top four teams, or top five teams, they've all had at least nine days to prepare against us," he said.
"So we've done it the hard way. We're pretty match-hardened, so I think that's one thing that'll put us in good stead for a really tough game next week."
Penrith skipper Jamie Soward labelled the Roosters' halves pairing of James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce as the form halves of the competition.
"I think missing Origin has really changed their season. A lot of people were talking about how much they're struggling. Now they're on top and they're the form halves," he said.
The only meeting between the two sides was in Round 19, when the Roosters ran away with a 32-12 shellacking at home.