Grand final time arrives early for Penrith Panthers


“It wasn’t up to standard and the boys are holding themselves accountable for what we did. We will learn from that and this week has to be different.”

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The gap between Penrith’s best and worst football this season has been alarming, and Kikau lamented his team’s ability to take one step forward only to take three steps back.

“Most of the games we have just been killing ourselves. We’ve beaten ourselves the last couple of weeks,” Kikau said.

“We’re doing stuff we don’t practice at training.

“Pushing offloads in attack, things that are just killing our momentum in the game, and then obviously the penalty and momentum comes on the back of that and tries come.”

Halfback Nathan Cleary said they will treat the clash against North Queensland as though their season depends on it.

“It’s a grand final week for us. In saying that, we’ve treated the last two weeks like that,” Cleary said.

“That’s the disappointing thing about last week.

“We prepared really well and really hard and we knew it was a game we needed to win, but we let that one slip.

“That puts us in a tough position now in a must-win game.”

In Cleary’s eyes, returning to the football that resurrected Penrith’s season in the first place starts on the defensive side of the ball.

Grand final time has arrived early for Nathan Cleary and the Panthers.Credit:AAP

“It’s very frustrating. The main issue is  . . . the best games we have played have been built on our defence,” he said.

“I think the games we play well, we built that foundation from the start.

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“On the weekend we didn’t start well enough in defence.

“We felt a bit of pressure and were trying to push passes and score off every play.

“When we start doing that, we aren’t playing our best footy.”

The NSW Origin halfback also dismissed a suggestion he plays his best football without fellow Origin half James Maloney.

That prospect has been raised after he carved the Sharks to shreds with Maloney suspended, only to have less of an impact against the Broncos one week later with the veteran playmaker back by his side.

“I’ve had success with James there. We both played Origin together and we were able to win that,” Cleary said.

“We’ve had success together. I don’t think my game was too different on the weekend. Obviously there were a few less opportunities, and that comes back on us as a team.

“We just didn’t hold the ball enough and I think me and James . . . we have been working on our combination.

“Sometimes it falls in and out of games, but on the weekend it wasn’t so much mine and James’ combination, it was more about holding the ball and making the right play at the right time.”

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