Just one game stands between the Panthers and a place in the SG Ball grand final.
Through nine rounds and an elimination final, coach Scott Thompson’s side has developed an unbreakable bond, and the team is now prepared for a do-or-die clash against the Knights on Saturday night.
According to key Panthers playmaker Keagan Russell-Smith, building a brotherhood has helped his side progress this far in the competition – finishing the regular season in third position before brushing past the Illawarra Steelers in last week’s elimination final.
Russell-Smith knows the relationship he shares with his teammates is critical to their on-field success.
"This team is probably the tightest Penrith team I’ve ever had in the three years I’ve been here,” Russell-Smith says.
“Our bond shows though the results. The brotherhood that we’ve got here … we’re all willing to put it all on the line for each other.”
Second-rower Harrison Hassett says he wouldn’t be able to do his job if his teammates didn’t have his back.
“We have a great bond here, all the boys love each other and would do anything for each other, it’s really special,” Hassett says.
Thompson has worked on the basics with his team across the season, putting an emphasis on defence throughout the year.
“We’ve been really focussing on our defence because defence is what will win us games,” Hassett says.
“We leaked a few points especially through our middle in the past couple of weeks and we’re trying to cut that out of our game.”
The journey to finals hasn’t been easy, with many players suffering from injuries or COVID-related fatigue. But that hasn’t decreased the morale of the team, who dream of claiming the Panthers’ ninth SG Ball Cup premiership.
After suffering a 32-18 loss to the Knights in the final round of the regular season, the team is determined to ensure the result is different this weekend.
“Preparation is key for us,” Hassett explains.
“Especially at training, we need to make sure everything is done perfectly during the week which should filter onto the field.”
While Russell-Smith believes success comes from every individual stepping up to the challenge.
“Learning how to own your role and do what you do best for the team is so important,” he says.
“You have to adjust your playing style to what the team needs.”
Taking on the goal-kicking role for his team, Russell-Smith admits he does feel the pressure when it comes to adding the extra two points to the scoreboard, but he tries not to let it bother him.
“I know I’ve got a job to do and I don’t want to let the boys down,” he says.
“Even if I do miss, I know they’ll keep playing at 110 percent and put in all their effort. As long as everyone plays their part then it should work out.”
The SG Ball Panthers will take on the Newcastle Knights in the preliminary final at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday 23 April at 6:45pm.
Match: Knights v Panthers
Semi Final -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney