Grab the popcorn… Penrith versus Parramatta delivers a local derby with storylines galore including some misfiring players and two coaches under the pump.
I can’t predict anything other than a close one with Penrith getting home right at the death. Either way it’s going to be a helluva ride.
Last week, Penrith were tired, they were frantic and they were distressed when they had the ball.
Parramatta weren’t perfect either, but this week they will bounce in because they might have the style to upset the applecart here against Penrith.
The big question mark for me with Penrith is how do they get Jarome Luai into the game?
How can they reinvigorate that energetic, emotional, confident, arrogant, five-eighth that we saw before the Origin series?
That’s the guy they desperately need back. They’ve tried putting the game on a plate for him and it’s not working.
If I’m out there, and I’m Nathan Cleary, I’m saying to Luai we don’t need you to have the first run and we don’t need you to have the first kick. We just need you to do everything that you can to bring your best game.
That might be a tackle or a hit up. Maybe it’s him being in a position where he gets hit or run over. That will help bring the fire back. That’s how you get yourself into the game, not being spoon fed the first kick.
They have to tell Luai: ‘You get yourself into the game because you’re an Origin player now and we expect more’.
What he’s gone through since the Origin series isn’t new. And it can definitely be disheartening.
I played Origin in 2011. Because I’d won the comp with the Dragons the year earlier I felt I had that bit of big-game experience behind me.
But coming back after Origin, everything is completely different.
You’re back to training every single day, you have to make your own food, the energy levels and excitement of playing on the biggest stage with everyone watching just isn’t there every single week.
There’s no doubt it’s tough, especially if you’re a young kid with lots of pressure on you.
Penrith tightened up last week, they’d been prone to an ambush, and it didn’t surprise me that much when it happened.
Everyone’s been saying that they’ve started finals games slowly and they’ve been able to dig themselves out of it. They didn’t dig themselves out of it in the grand final last year and they couldn’t do it last week either.
If you can jump in and punch them in the mouth, and you’re able to get six to ten points ahead, then you’re definitely going to be in the game for a long, long time.
I’d be expecting Penrith to start a lot more disciplined, kick early, and build their game through their defence – which is the best defensive unit in the comp.
I’ve played under Ivan Cleary and last week, a bit like the side’s performance, he got caught inside his own head.
He, and the team, tried to use trickery, and be too clever, instead of just going out there and doing what they do best.
The choker tag gets thrown around pretty loosely, and he’ll be keen to avoid it.
If they don’t advance, they would have made a grand final being the best team and lost. Then this year they came into the finals, probably the hottest team with Manly, and if they go out in straight sets… well the tag will be thrown around again.
Every year that you don’t succeed, the pressure starts to build and you have to go back to the drawing board for another 12 months.
Cleary’s very cool, calm and collected and understands his players. Last week was the first real sign I’ve seen of him feel the pinch a little bit, and he’s not used to that.
This week he would have reined it in a little bit, let his players take over. I don’t think there would have been too much over coaching this week. The review would have been really hard to watch because of the stuff that I did, but their preparation would have started straightaway.
It’s not just Cleary who’s under pressure, of course. If Parramatta get blown away, Brad Arthur’s job is under severe threat.
I say that with the utmost respect for him because what he’s done in getting this side through the first week of the finals and now with a chance of upsetting Penrith.
Not finishing in the top four really hurt them. But they do have that outlier against the Melbourne Storm, which makes you wonder whether they can turn it on for one more game.
If Parramatta are to upset the Panthers, it’s going to have to be a power game from their forwards, and they have to take on James Fisher-Harris. He was exposed last week.
Souths really attacked him and he ran for under 100 metres – this from a guy who is probably the premier prop in the world.
If Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo can do that, create some second phase with their offloads, get Clint Gutherson, Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses running the footy, it may be the recipe for Parramatta to move on.