Despite not hitting their straps against North Queensland, the Penrith Panthers now sit as the new leaders after 10 rounds of the 2020 NRL Premiership. They are still on the fourth line of outright betting at $6.50 with Sportsbet.com.au, so now might be a good time to jump on if you think Ivan Cleary’s men can go on to clinch the title this year.
When it comes to trying to find a flag winner, there are several questions that need to be answered. No premiership side is flawless, but there are certain qualities they all share. It’s time to take a look at the Panthers in depth.
Good defence wins premierships
Title-winning teams at worst have a top-four defensive unit. The 2019 Sydney Roosters averaged 15.12 points conceded throughout a 25-round regular season, while in 2018 they averaged 15.04 per game.
Through 10 games, the Panthers are conceding just 14.4 points each time they take the field. This puts them fourth in the league and indicates they are good enough to go all the way.
Penrith play the Gold Coast Titans next round, which will inflate their statistics, but there is enough evidence to suggest their defence is real.
Breakout stars leading the way
One key ingredient for a premiership winner, and one that is often forgotten, is having players perform well above their contract value. Looking across the squad, guys like Stephen Crichton, Brent Naden and Liam Martin are among Penrith’s best players each week and take up little room on their salary cap. Isaah Yeo has also improved out of sight and you could argue he fits into this category too.
Getting value for money while there are big bucks allocated to your prime movers, such as Nathan Cleary, is perhaps the most underrated part of winning a premiership. Even Api Koroisau, who is the leading contender for signing of the year, is outplaying his contract in his first season back at the club.
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Questions to answer in attack
Penrith have scored 240 total points so far in 2020, which gives them a fantastic average of 24 per game. If you take out their 56-point outing against the Sharks, it brings their average back down to 20 points per game. That will win you more games than you lose, but it isn’t exactly banging down the premiership door.
The Panthers have scored at least 20 points in seven of their games, with two of those going to 30 or more, so there is a level of consistency with their offense. They do boast wins over the Roosters and the Storm too, with the victory over Melbourne proving a lot of doubters wrong.
Nathan Cleary at halfback is actually playing like he belongs in the State of Origin conversation, rather than riding a wave of unwarranted hype from mainstream media. Api Koroisau has unlocked the ruck for Penrith and it’s made Cleary a better player, but the spine outside those two is a little iffy.
Dylan Edwards at fullback is a running player short on genuine ball-playing skills, while Jarome Luai at five-eighth is improving but yet to convince the wider NRL public he has what it takes in big games. Those positions shape up as the biggest weaknesses in Penrith’s premiership argument, but the same was said about Canberra with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the no.1 jersey.
It can be done, but it means the likes of Koroisau and Cleary have to be nothing short of outstanding in the finals series.
Panthers on track for minor premiership
With just three games against current top-eight teams left on Penrith’s schedule, the $3.10 at Bet365 for the minor premiership is more than worth a shout. Most online bookmakers have them at $3 or less to make the grand final, which doesn’t look a great bet when compared to the minor flag odds.
Since 1998, the team leading the competition after 10 rounds has gone on to win the NRL Grand Final only six times. That is one statistic worth considering before parting ways with your cash.
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