Stats that reveal problems for Panthers
PENRITH are 1-2 to start the season, but their latest loss to Melbourne highlights a problem that could be fatal to their season if left unchecked.
The Panthers were thrashed by the Storm in Bathurst on Saturday night, failing to score a try in the 32-2 drubbing. They now sit 14th on the ladder after copping a disappointing loss to the Eels in Round 1.
Stats from the first three rounds show no player in the backline has scored a try yet this year - their 30 points all coming through the middle of the field.
Halfback Nathan Cleary came up with two try-assists in their 16-14 win over the Knights in round two but halves partner James Maloney is yet to register a try-assist or try, and has produced just two linebreak assists so far - Cleary, just the one.
Compare this to Roosters half Luke Keary with six try-assists and Rabbitohs pair Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook with a combined total of nine.
However, former Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward believes the reason the halves aren't able to fire has everything to do with the lack of spark from dummy half.
"[Maloney and Cleary] probably didn't have their best game. they're under a lot of pressure, they're the main guys, the Origin guys," Soward said on Monday.
"But when you have two hookers in your team run for a total of [two] metres, if that's not a threat or an option at all it allows the defence to go off on to the halves."
Combined against the Storm, Cleary, Maloney and hookers Sione Katoa and Wade Egan made just nine runs for 57 metres.
However, the problem is the Panthers have limited options at hooker, with Katoa and Egan their only two specialised players in their top 30 squad. Five-eighth Jarome Luai is an option as a bench rotation, but not a long-term solution.
Fullback Dylan Edwards has also come under scrutiny with calls mounting to replace him at fullback with New Zealand No.1 and Panthers winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Against Melbourne on Saturday night Edwards clocked up 183 metres and three tackle breaks, but made a whopping six errors - more than a third of the teams' total mistakes (16).
"I went back and had a look at it and they had all the ball in the first half and they did nothing with it," Soward said.
"They looked like they had run through all of their training moves in the space of 10 minutes on the weekend."
Soward proposed changes around the ruck to take the pressure off the halves and allow them to get creative, while championing a straight swap between Watene-Zelezniak and Edwards.
Also concerning is the alarming defensive stats.
The Panthers are leaking an average of 22 points per game - a number which looks flattering considering they held the Knights to 16 points in round two.
Unless they turn it around quickly, this could get ugly for the Panthers, who will now face coach Ivan Cleary's former team in the Wests Tigers who have enjoyed a stunning start to the season.
Even though Cleary may have changed his stripes, there'll be no changing his focus ahead of the anticipated clash.
Cleary described the Panthers' second-half performance in Bathurst as "awful", "inept", and "extremely disappointing".
"The game changed around the 46th minute mark when (Melbourne) scored again. I thought our boys really failed to deal with that," Cleary said.
"From then on, we were awful.
"I think we completed four sets for the rest of the game or something. Just all parts of our game I thought were just inept."
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