Panthers v Wests Tigers: Five key points
With a possible finals spot on the line for both teams, Penrith found their mojo while the Wests Tigers simply didn't turn up. Here are five talking points from the 40-10 whitewash.
Wests Tigers fail to match Penrith's intensity
A shattered Tigers coach Jason Taylor lashed his team's lack of intensity and effort in letting through a number of soft four-pointers in the seven-tries-to-two belting. Penrith simply wanted to run harder and tackle harder, he lamented.
"Enormously disappointing. Enormously. We've got a really shattered group of players in the rooms," Taylor said.
"Some inconsolable to be honest, through the fact that it was such a disappointing performance with the situation we were in."
He accused his team of taking "short cuts".
"The only thing I can put that down to is just a lack of energy that was required to go with Penrith in the first half," he said.
"It's the only thing I can put it down to because the commitment that the team's been playing with, the attitude this week at training, the warm up, the talk, we've talked about all of this stuff and it was there for us all week again but we just took some short cuts."
Penrith's first try – where winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak made a clean line break on a kick return, then beat a few more players before sending Waqa Blake on a clear run to the line – saw "a majority" of the team down on the kick chase but a couple who just weren't there, Taylor said.
The second Penrith try, which saw Bryce Cartwright cut back on the angle and push right through the middle of the Tigers defence to plant the ball next to the posts, was a result of defenders not moving up through the middle of the field, Taylor added.
"We just don't do that anymore, we've got that stuff out of our game and it's been great to watch but it came back [on Friday night]. It's really disappointing," he said.
Defence, not tries, on Griffin's radar
While the Panthers have rolled in 14 tries in six days, the fact they only let in two against an unpredictable Wests Tigers attack was most pleasing to Panthers coach Anthony Griffin. He was particularly happy with the fact they stuck at their task even after the result was beyond doubt rather than letting in a few late tries.
"Even though we probably had the game in hand our defensive effort was an 80 minute or close to an 80 minute one as we've had. We're learning," Griffin said.
"A few weeks ago we might have lost control of that last 20 minutes even though it got a bit scrappy we held our composure with the ball and defensively.
"Up in Newcastle last week we gave them a third of our ball, I think we were at 60 per cent [completion rate] but [against the Tigers] we only had two or three errors in the whole game. This time of year it's really important that we learn the simpler it is the better and we need to put that lesson to use next week again."
The performance showed a bit more belief defensively, while in attack the team is showing more control, Griffin added.
"The thing I was most proud of was the way they kept turning up in the last 20 minutes. They could have easily dropped their hands and thought we'd done enough but they kept showing up the last 20 minutes which is good," he said.
Cleary's kicks torment stand-in fullback
Wests Tigers Mr Fixit Jordan Rankin is no stranger to the No.1 jersey but standing in for James Tedesco was always going to be a tall order – more so given he is still being asked to play dummy half in attack while defending at fullback for the periods Dene Halatau is off the field – and doubly so given the work-out young half Nathan Cleary gave him on Friday.
The 18-year-old playmaker's kicking game belies his tender years. Already he is capable of launching possibly the highest bombs of any player in the NRL; his ability to drive through the middle of the ball and send the Steeden floating and swirling up into the sky for what seems an eternity before a luckless opposition back has to try and make a grab at it is a potent weapon for his team.
Rankin was impressive at fullback last week after Tedesco went off injured and has done a great job this season at plugging a number of gaps for the club but he finished Friday with more errors (three) than kicks successfully defused and the team's inability to counter Cleary's kicks was a big factor in the pressure they put themselves under.
"Yeah, 'Rank' had a tough night, there's no doubt about that and that contributed to things," Taylor conceded.
"But that wasn't the game, that wasn't where it was won and lost. It was won and lost in the middle of the field and Penrith were too strong for us."
Finals-bound Panthers refuse to think too far ahead
Friday night's win effectively seals the Panthers a finals berth. If they completely drop their bundle over the final two rounds and other results go against them they could mathematically miss out but realistically the challenge for them now is to keep winning and try to jag a home final.
They move temporarily level with the Cowboys on 28 points though North Queensland will be expected to beat the Warriors at home this weekend to go level with Brisbane on 30 points. But Brisbane's next assignment is a tough road trip to Melbourne before they host the resurgent Roosters in Round 26 and the Cowboys will do it tough away to the Bulldogs next week before hosting the impressive Titans in the final round.
If Penrith can claw wins against the Titans (away) and Manly (at home) over the next fortnight there's every chance they'll be hosting one of Brisbane or North Queensland in Sydney rather than facing one of those same two sides up in Queensland which is a much tougher task.
However Griffin refused to buy into any speculation.
"If we're going to play finals the important thing is we get there in good form so the mistake this time of year is to be looking too far ahead and trying to line up what might happen," he said.
"[Against Wests Tigers] we just had a focus on making sure we got the two points we needed. We've got to play a really good side (the Titans) away next week that are in the same boat as us. That will be the only thing we're worrying about. If in two weeks' time we've earned the right to play finals we'll worry about that then."
Penrith hooker Peter Wallace admitted a home final would be "ideal" but also didn't want to look past next game.
"That would be ideal but there's still two weeks to go, the ladder's so close. A lot can happen in two weeks so we'll just worry about the Titans first of all next week then go from there," Wallace told NRL.com.
Wests Tigers at a loss to explain step backwards
After plenty of improvement over the back end of the season, Friday night was a big step back in terms of the team's energy and effort, according to Taylor, and was at a loss to explain why that might have happened.
Aside from the actual 40-10 scoreline itself, the 49 missed tackles and seven line breaks conceded are worrying numbers for the club.
"It wasn't a step back in regards to the progress that we've made in how we've been defending but it doesn't matter what the structures are, if the energy and effort aren't there then you're not going to match it," Taylor said.
"The most disappointing part was there were a couple of parts where they just ran too hard for us and we didn't want to tackle them."
He did praise the team's resilience in coming out of a first-half drubbing to keep things tight in the second 40, and praised Rankin and fullback David Nofoaluma for saving a Josh Mansour try right at the death, but added the overall effort wasn't good enough.
"I can only put it down to energy. Just after 10 minutes not having the energy we needed to get there because there's no explanation as to why we wouldn't get there otherwise, if we had that energy. Because the talk was there," he added.
Skipper Aaron Woods conceded plenty of the Penrith tries were "soft".
"We got off to a good start but we played well for five minutes. They ran harder. They were simple one on ones [the missed tackles], we gave some crucial penalties away as well which gave them field position and I think 'JT' summed it up right, we just took the easy options sometimes. We didn't work hard enough for each other and the energy wasn't there tonight."