Queensland have added a further five players to their squad for next month’s State of Origin series.
Penrith will be able to have more than 7000 fans back into Panthers Stadium as they brace for a backlash from the seething Sydney Roosters.
The Panthers were the only club still waiting on approval to increase their crowd size for the finals when NSW Health announced changes last month.
While officials have ticked off on a 50 per cent capacity at Sydney’s major stadiums, Penrith’s numbers will be slightly lower given their hill.
With a slightly altered seating plan, Penrith will instead be able to have a COVID-safe capacity of 7299 at the ground which usually holds just over 22,000.
On the field though, the Panthers expect life to be made hard for them.
They have not faced the Roosters since round one when they came from behind to beat them 20-14, in what was considered a shock update at the time.
Since then Penrith have dropped just one match on their way to the minor premiership, while the Roosters are coming off their 60-8 flogging from South Sydney.
But given the Roosters’ proud finals record, Penrith captain James Tamou expects that result to only work in the two-time defending premiers’ favour.
“That’s probably made it worse for us, they will be revving up all week because of that drubbing,” Tamou said.
“It was weird, like what the heck? A team like that you just don’t see (conceding) 60 points.
“You might be able to jag one or two lucky tries but 60 points.
“They are a good team, I still think they are world class regardless of what happened. We will have our hands full.”
Penrith were easily the biggest winners out of the weekend.
While it appeared likely they would have to face Melbourne or the Roosters in a must-win preliminary final, the Rabbitohs’ win and Parramatta’s defeat of Wests Tigers mean their path is now much clearer.
If results go as expected, a win against the Roosters in the non do-or-die match on Friday night will mean they likely won’t have to face either of the two other favourites before October 25.
“We were going to come up against them sooner or later,” Tamou said.
“You always have to play them any time you try in the finals to try and make it.
“You have to play the best teams.”
After Penrith and the Roosters kick off the finals, Melbourne will host the Eels in Saturday night’s qualifying final.
Canberra and Cronulla with then face off for a second straight week in Saturday’s elimination final.
And Newcastle need a reversal of form when they face the rampant Rabbitohs on Sunday after being flogged 36-6 by Gold Coast on Friday.
NRL FINALS WEEK ONE:
Friday: Penrith v Sydney Roosters at Panthers Stadium, 7.50pm
Saturday: Melbourne v Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium, 7.50pm
Saturday: Canberra v Cronulla at GIO Stadium, 5.40pm
Sunday: South Sydney v Newcastle at ANZ Stadium, 4.05pm