Fresh from a week off after winning their qualifying final against the Warriors, the Penrith Panthers are looking forward to another finals battle with the Melbourne Storm in Friday night’s preliminary final at Accor Stadium.
Enjoying a couple of days off during the week while they waited to find out their opponent, the Panthers are ready to hit the ground running as they aim to qualify for their fourth-consecutive grand final.
While the week off gives the Panthers players a chance to freshen up, hooker Mitch Kenny knows from experience that playing each week of the finals can also give a team a different advantage.
“Obviously a freshen up helps, but our opponent gets to be a bit more battle-hardened, which can definitely help them,” Kenny said.
“This team knows what it’s like to do it the hard way [in 2021] and you know that you can’t take it lightly because we’ve won a finals series doing that, having to play wars and really long games. It can make you really battle-hardened, so you can’t expect that’s going to make a team worse.
“You can’t take that lightly, but we’ll take the opportunity where we don’t get as many bumps and bruises.”
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Winger Sunia Turuva shared a similar sentiment to Kenny, but also said the week off was a big help ahead of playing a team like the Storm.
“It’s a massive help, I think,” Turuva said.
“Finals are different ball games, so to get the body ready, especially against a team like Melbourne with big boys and a big, agile pack, I think the week off is massive.”
Having met the Storm twice in the last three finals series, a strong rivalry has developed between the two clubs.
Despite this, Kenny was quick to point out that history means nothing when it comes to finals footy.
“What’s happened in the past doesn’t matter as soon as you step out onto the field,” he acknowledged.
“You can’t take that into the game and have any preconceived ideas if it’s going to affect how Melbourne play. It’s the Melbourne Storm, they’re going to turn up and play a really high standard of footy and they’re probably going to play the best game they’ve played all year.
“So that’s what we’ve got to expect. That’s what we’ve got to prepare for.”
Kenny added that the two previous meetings between the clubs would have little bearing on the result on Friday night.
“The score might have gotten in our favour but it’s always a hard game against them.
“The past can definitely help, but you can’t let that lull you into a false sense of security either. We can take some learnings from that, but we’ve got to expect that they’ve learnt from those games as well.”
Edge forward Luke Garner also said that past results would have little bearing on the match.
“We’re just playing this game like any other prelim,” Garner said.
“We’ll prepare for the Storm like we’ve never played them before.”
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With Izack Tago a late withdrawal for the qualifying final against the Warriors, Garner stepped into his centre position, making 16 tackles, 7 tackle breaks and over 120 running metres.
Garner said that, while he hadn’t played that position for a long time, he has played there before and confident he can do the job, wherever coach Ivan Cleary asks him to play.
“As long as I prepare for it and train for whatever my position is, I’m pretty comfortable,” he said.
“I’ve played a number of different roles over the years and so I definitely have experience there and I take confidence out of that.”