When September comes around weather starts to warm up, the grass gets a little bit greener and Penrith win finals games. At this point, it just feels like a part of life, like something that’s as inevitable as Monday following Sunday. It’s just the way things are.
The Panthers’ 32-6 win over the Warriors was impressive and imposing and, if you’re a fan of a team who is still in the premiership race, terrifying. It was also regular, perfunctory and easy to see coming.
This is what Penrith do and we have all seen them do it many, many times before. The Kiwis among us shouldn’t feel too bad. At some time or another over the past three seasons, just about everyone has gotten what’s coming to them against the Panthers.
Even if talismanic halfback Shaun Johnson was playing this was going to be a tall order for the Warriors. Without him, it became close to impossible.
New Zealand are a classically constructed football team – their strength is their forward pack, mainly in the form of Addin Fonua-Blake and Tohu Harris, and on the back of that Shaun Johnson creates chances for a backline which, for the most part, is a combination of workmanlike grinders and big improvers.
Throw in a lot of effort and energy in defence and it’s a good way to play out a season because it’s the kind of style that’s easy to replicate week to week. But in the finals you need a little bit more and without Johnson to lead the way, the Warriors could not find it.
It’s understandable if the neutral fan is a little bit sick of Penrith’s dominance. They’ve been doing this, in various styles and with various new faces, for almost four years now. It seems to happen again and again, then again and again and again after that.
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The method doesn’t change all that much. There’s big carries from the back three, brutal contact from the forwards, cunning and precise control from Nathan Cleary and slick execution when it counts and it all happens over and over until the opposition look like they’re drowning out there on the grass.
That’s exactly how it happened this time around. Cleary was in superb touch in one of his best games of the season as he created two early tries. Liam Martin was charging down the right edge like it was his life’s calling. Sunia Turuva and Brian To’o ran the ball like whoever finished with the most run metres would win the deed to Panthers Leagues Club.
The screws were turned, the sets were completed, the tackles were made, the tries were scored and when the dust settled the Panthers had won, again, and they’d made a good side look rather second rate, again.
It’s worth remembering the Warriors are not second-rate. Very few teams who finish in the top four are. If they get Johnson back next week they’re every chance of progressing to the preliminary final. But they did not look in Penrith’s class on Saturday afternoon.
That’s not an insult, it’s just a reality and they’re not alone in that regard because very, very few teams have had anything resembling an answer for these Panthers. It’s become a story so familiar most fans could recite it chapter and verse.
You might be sick of it, but Penrith aren’t and that’s the key. They have found joy not in victory but in the journey to it. Some teams enjoy the process of creating a win but the win itself is the reward.
For Penrith, the reward is the process itself. They have found a way to revel in winning a thousand small battles more than winning the biggest ones.
That’s why they’ve won two straight premierships while staying as hungry as they were when they were still chasing their first. That’s why they’re odds on to become the first team in nearly half a century to win three titles in a row. That’s why they’re the Panthers and that’s why your team isn’t.
The finals are still just beginning but Penrith returning to the grand final for the fourth year in a row feels inevitable. Of the remaining teams only Brisbane seem like they have the muscle and the skill and the swagger to challenge them.
After burying their Melbourne Storm hoodoo and with a home preliminary final waiting there is nothing left for Kevin Walters side to fear – not even the Panthers, who they beat at Penrith at the start of the year.
They are a brilliant and brutal football team and they have a furious, desperate hunger not just to fight and win but to dominate and excel. They have everything they need to win a premiership.
And none of it might matter because all of that might not be enough. Nothing has been enough to handle Penrith for years now. It just keeps happening. They just keep doing it. We’re running out of things to say and ways to tell this story because we’ve already seen the ending.