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It’s the 50-day period that the Penrith Panthers need to negotiate if they want to win back-to-back titles. 

Win, lose or draw in Friday's blockbuster against the resurgent Cowboys — which will be their fourth game against teams inside the top four in succession — the boys from the foot of the mountains know they are about to enter a tricky part of the season where they will need to handle the loss of multiple players to the Blues.

It’s the inevitable price of success for the reigning premiers, who beat the Sydney Roosters 32-12 on Saturday night to extend their lead atop the Telstra Premiership ladder.

Last year they were a perfect 12-from-12 heading into the State of Origin period, with Wests Tigers and Cronulla springing upsets either side of Game 1 as Penrith struggled with players unavailable or backing up.

The Panthers are set to face a similar situation this year.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Panthers

Incumbents Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo, Brain To’o, and Liam Martin are seemingly locks for Brad Fittler’s Blues, Stephen Crichton is firming to make his debut at centre, while Moses Leota and Apisai Koroisau could be in the mix for extended squads.

So what did coach Ivan Cleary learn about last year’s experience?

“You got to be careful moving people around into different roles that they are not accustomed to,” said Cleary in reference to shifting Jarome Luai into a controlling half role at the back end of last year.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but our NSW Cup team won again last night so we got players in form and we are really looking forward to that challenge.

"We're looking forward to seeing plenty of the boys get picked because they deserve to.”

Panthers: Round 11


The Panthers have been helped by a kinder draw this time around, with the Origin-depleted Panthers to face the last-placed Bulldogs in the lead up to the opening Origin in Round 13 and then 15th-placed Newcastle on a long-turn around in Round 14. They will also have a four-day turnaround after Origin III when they play the 14th placed Wests Tigers.

Cleary will no doubt be leaning on Kiwi international James Fisher-Harris and Fiji superstar Viliame Kikau to lead the team through the tough five-game stretch where full-team training sessions could be counted on one hand.

The emergence of Scott Sorensen and young guns Taylan May and Izack Tago, who made his debut in the round 13 loss to the Wests Tigers last year, will aid the cause.

The great wall of Penrith

Cleary said despite the disruptions, the Origin period helped them on their way to the title last year.

“I think it helped us last year in the semi-finals. If you can get guys who play well in the Origin arena it’s going to help you in the back end of the year,” he said.

“It’s a challenge though; you prefer to have the boys around all the time but it opens the door for other guys and as a club it tests our culture and our systems.

"It’s a challenge we are looking forward to.”

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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