Panthers on the prowl for top eight finish
Had the Penrith Panthers not beaten the Newcastle Knights in Round 26 of the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season, the proud western Sydney club would have claimed its first wooden spoon since 2007.
It would have capped an incredible fall for a team that had gone within six points of making the grand final just 12 months earlier.
After a disappointing - albeit injury-ravaged season – the tough times looked set to continue after the Panthers started 2016 with back-to-back losses and trailed the high-flying Broncos 22-6 in their Round 3 meeting.
The Panthers somehow fought back to steal that game by a point and have since recovered to sit in eighth spot heading into the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
Following this weekend's game against the Wests Tigers, Penrith will face three top eight sides in a row before the draw opens up in the run home to the finals.
Currently on 18 competition points – and with 28 generally enough to play finals – the Panthers require five wins from their final 10 matches if they want to feature in the post-season.
It's a scenario not lost on the playing group, with backrower Isaah Yeo telling media on Tuesday morning that the club controlled its own destiny leading into the business end of the season.
"There's obviously 10 rounds to go and we're teetering around that eighth spot," Yeo said.
"We understand that it's in our own hands now. If we win the majority of our games then we're obviously going to be in that finals series.
"You'd like to go into the last few games with consistency, and we probably haven't had that all year. This is the first time we've been close. To make it three in a row would be big heading into the final few months of the season.
"I don't think we've had two in a row for a while. The boys are going into this week pretty happy and confident."
Their challenge starts this weekend a Wests Tigers side currently four points behind them on the ladder, but more than capable of playing of style of footy that troubles even the best teams as evidenced by their stirring fightback against the Melbourne Storm.
Trailing 26-0 at the break, the Tigers exploded into life after half-time to get within six points of the competition's second-best side, only to be thwarted by a late field goal and penalty goal.
"I know it's going to be a tough game. They showed [that] in the second half against Melbourne," Yeo said.
"We know the talent they've got. You look at their spine – they had Elijah Taylor play at nine and we know how good he is, and obviously [Mitchell] Moses, [James] Tedesco and [Luke] Brooks [are threats].
"There aren't many spines like that in the comp and you saw that in the second half. Most people would've shut up shop against Melbourne, but they made a game of it. We know how hard it's going to be."
Panthers five-eighth Bryce Cartwright believes his side must play to the final whistle if they want to be serious contenders in 2016.
His comments come after Penrith almost squandered a 14-point lead against the Rabbitohs last week in the final few minutes, having had to mount a comeback of their own against the Sea Eagles in Round 14.
"We've got to be on our defensive game for the whole 80 and not give away silly penalties and silly errors," Cartwright said.
"I think that was probably the worst thing in our game against Souths. You can't do that against anyone in the NRL because they're just going to score points. We just need to be better in those areas.
"We slipped away in periods and we could have put a few more points on them and stopped a few of their tries. We're definitely going to have to be better in those areas if we want to play finals football."