Panthers expect refs to relent in finals

Panthers vice-captain Isaah Yeo expects the officials to put their whistles away throughout the finals series as Penrith enter sudden death territory as the most penalised and sin-binned team in the competition.

The Panthers prevailed over an injury-hit Storm side for the first time in Melbourne since 2005 on Friday night with a desperately needed win, despite being reduced to 12 men for 20 minutes of the first half and copping a 12-6 penalty count against them.

Josh Mansour's 18th-minute marching for shielding Justin Olam away from the ball in a kick chase drew howls of indignation from Penrith, while James Tamou became the 13th Panther sin-binned this year when he too was given a spell by referee Gerard Sutton.

With their 226 penalties (9.42 a game) the most conceded by any team this year, rookie coach Cameron Ciraldo recently met with referees boss Bernard Sutton to address his team's treatment by the whistle blowers.

Yeo concedes his teammates can improve their discipline.

But  he also tipped officials would be less likely to 'nit pick' as NRL CEO Todd Greenberg put it in June, when he urged a rethink on the controversial penalty crackdown in several facets of the game.  

"I think they'll probably put (their whistles) away in the finals a little bit more," Yeo said.

"They don't want to be the reason for a team losing. I think it'll probably drop off a little bit coming into the finals. But obviously you need to be disciplined, you don't want to lose off the back of a penalty count.

"I'm hoping the penalties will drop away a little bit, but you still have to be good in that area."

Penrith had previously employed former referee Luke Phillips as an assistant, with his help regarding officials highly regarded by current players, particularly when he went into NSW camp during this year's Origin series.

Phillips has since moved to St George Illawarra amid suggestions he was underutilised by Ciraldo's predecessor Anthony Griffin.

A sudden death final now awaits the Panthers unless Cronulla are trounced by Canterbury on Sunday and an unlikely top four spot lands in their lap.

But they will be at home in week one of the finals should they finish in the bottom half of the eight, with Brisbane's Sunday clash against Manly determining whether Penrith host the Broncos, Dragons or Warriors at Panthers Stadium.

Given the Panthers copped 11 penalties as well as the two sin-binnings in the first half against the Storm, Yeo was particularly pleased with their ability to keep Melbourne to a 10-6 lead at the break.

Panthers winger Josh Mansour.
Panthers winger Josh Mansour. ©Mark Dadswell/NRL Photos

"It's not ideal, and two (sin-binnings) in the first half, so to spend half the time with 12 men, I think they only scored one try so all credit to the team," he said.

"I thought it was a massive effort, it was very much needed for confidence and I think it's a real step in the right direction.

"We were up against a fair penalty count, that's probably got the best of us over the last couple of months.

"To fight back and still be in it at halftime and then come over the top of them in the second half is pretty pleasing."