Panthers primed to handle another Tigers ambush

George Clarke |

Penrith are out to avoid a repeat of these 2023 scenes when they again face the Tigers in Bathurst.
Penrith are out to avoid a repeat of these 2023 scenes when they again face the Tigers in Bathurst.

Pointing to the giant strides Wests Tigers have made under Benji Marshall, Penrith are wary of another upset from the resurgent club this weekend as the Panthers sweat on the fitness of Nathan Cleary.

The champion halfback’s hamstring has been a major talking point following the club’s uncharacteristic defeat to Manly prior to the bye round.

As if that loss wasn’t enough to give the Panthers renewed focus, they also have a ledger to square as they return to Bathurst on Saturday.

Carrington Park was the site of one of the great boilovers of 2023, when Penrith were installed as $1.10 favourites but were shocked by the Tigers in a rain-soaked 12-8 loss.

“It was a nice rainy night and they played the conditions better than we did,” said fullback Dylan Edwards. 

“They simplified their footy and we didn’t play the greatest brand of footy.

“(This year) they’re playing hard and they’re playing for each other.

Nathan Cleary.
Nathan Cleary’s hamstring remains an issue as Penrith and the Tigers reprise the Battle of Bathurst. (Regi Varghese/AAP PHOTOS)

“They’re hanging in for long periods of the game so I expect no different on the weekend.”

The result was one of just four wins the Tigers tasted all season as they claimed a second-successive wooden spoon but it was where Edwards’ opposite man Jahream Bula announced himself to the NRL. 

Under Marshall, the Tigers have a 2-3 record in 2024.

Centre Izack Tago, who quipped his ribs were all intact ahead of a showdown with destructive Papua New Guinean Justin Olam, warned his side needed to be mindful of the Api Koroisau’s threat out of dummy-half. 

“They ambushed us and they got us,” Tago said.

“They’re going really well and they’ve got a lot of potential.

“He (Koroisau) is being appreciated now for what he does for that team.”

Aside from the concerns over Cleary, who Edwards said had suffered a minor setback, Panthers players are making their case for Sunia Turuva to remain at the club.

The Fijian international is canvassing offers from rival clubs, among them St George Illawarra, with a greater paycheque and the potential to play fullback all bargaining chips.

Edwards’ presence would limit his chance to get a crack at the No. 1 jersey but Tago, who has struck up a formidable right-side partnership with Turuva has urged him to stay put. 

“I feel for Tito (Turuva) because this is his home club and I know he wants to stay here, but we’ll see what happens,” Tago said.

“It (losing players) has happened for the past few years, but I hope we can keep him.

“I had a few chats to him; there’d definitely be a hole missing in the sheds (if he left).”