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Penrith will allow themselves to put one eye on the NRL’s finals after securing their chief goal in recent months of playing at home in the opening week.
With Friday night’s 20-2 win over Parramatta guaranteeing them a top-two spot, Penrith are now certain to start their finals campaign at Panthers Stadium next month.
Their following match also certain to be in Sydney, regardless of whether they win in the opening week or not.
It will mark the first finals match at the ground since 2010, and couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Panthers have now won a record eight straight at he foot of the mountains, having not been beaten at their home ground since last July.
And it’s all come at a time when only close to 4000 fans can enter the ground, a figure still expected for finals.
“It doesn’t guarantee you anything but if you could pick any ground to play at (in the finals) it would be Panthers Stadium,” coach Ivan Cleary said.
“We’ve earned that.
“That gives you some sort of advantage, definitely. But as I said, it’s not going to guarantee you anything.”
(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)
With that advantage wrapped up, Cleary will now begin planning for how they go about it in October.
He remained unsure if he would rest players in the lead up, having previously banked on managing them through training sessions while positions were up for grabs.
“It gives the chance for the next couple of weeks to work out how we best prepare for that first week,” Cleary said.
“It’s now about working out what is best for not just the team but certain individuals and getting them ready for the next few weeks.”
Also on Cleary’s mind though is the minor premiership.
Penrith have only ever lifted the JJ Giltinan Shield as minor premiers twice in 1991 and 2003, the two years then went on to win the grand final.
After winning 13 straight, just one more victory is required in the final fortnight against North Queensland or Canterbury to wrap up top spot.
A rematch with rivals Parramatta now likely awaits in the opening week of finals, assuming there are no major shocks in the final few weeks.
“We want to get the minor premiership as well,” Cleary said.
“I don’t think we’ll leave tonight any less confident, I thought we controlled possession, field position and created chances.”