Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
5 days ago
The Penrith Panthers have been handed a boost ahead of their round 20 clash against Cronulla with the news that Peter Wallace is back available following his ankle injury. After struggling to maintain their charge for the play-offs in Wallace's absence, the Panthers weren't helped by the fact that back-up half-back Tyrone Peachey was then ruled out for the remainder of the year with a pectoral problem.
Wallace has been out of action since picking up his ankle injury in the Panthers round 17 victory over the Wests Tigers, with the initial thoughts being that the former Brisbane star would miss the rest of the season. Further scans revealed the damage was less than first feared, keeping the half-back sidelined for a matter of weeks rather than months.
In Wallace's absence, the club picked up a victory over the Broncos in round 18 before slumping to a dismal round 19 defeat at the hands of the Sydney Roosters - knocking the Panthers from the top of the table and dropping them two points behind Manly. Wallace's return to the side should open the door for Bruce Cartwright to move back to the second row despite his impressive performance against the Roosters.
In his second spell at the club, Wallace has wasted little time in re-establishing himself as a key part of the side. Following a successful five years with the Brisbane Broncos, Wallace is now looking to taste success with he club his first joined in 2005. Still very much in the hunt for honours this season, Wallace's return to action couldn't have come at a better time for a Panthers side looking to get their promising NRL campaign back on track.
Following an almost perfect first half of the season, the pressure is now firmly on the Panthers to maintain their charge towards the play-offs. But despite their form so far this season, the betting on NRL still has a number of other teams ahead of the Panthers in this year's odds.
The Panthers has plenty of added motivation following their loss against the Roosters following a controversial moment at the start of the match when Jake Friend kicked a 40/20 before opting to take a quick tap which caught Elijah Taylor two meters offside and resulted in the Penrith star being sent to the bin. The club were also frustrated late in the game when Jamie Soward was forced to wait after kicking a 40/20 because a ballboy couldn't get the ball on to the field quick enough. While those two moments weren't the only reason the Panthers lost the game, it's no doubt both incidents played a role in Sydney playing out a comfortable win.
"There's no point in having it, is there?" Soward said. "You're not allowed to get the ball unless the ballboy has the ball on the ground and the ball boys were doing the best job that could but the reality is that Kevin Naiqama or Jamal Idris sprints down there a lot quicker."