Comeback kings Penrith turn heat on rivals

Trent Merrin on the charge. Picture: Zak Simmonds
Trent Merrin on the charge. Picture: Zak Simmonds

MOST teams would count a single comeback from 14-0 down as a lucky escape, but Penrith's back-to-back resurrections prove there's nothing lucky about it.

While no club would want to rely on running down a deficit every week, Penrith's burgeoning reputation as the NRL's cardiac cats has allowed the club to open a season with successive wins for just the fourth time since 1998.

There's no one reason for Penrith's ability to come back from the dead, but there's a few things that help - like how when it's too hot for you, it's just right for the Panthers.

Anyone who's been near the foot of the mountains during the summer knows it can get, as Shakespeare said, hot as buggery.

In both Panthers matches this season the mercury has been ticking over 35 degrees, and when the opposition has wilted Penrith, after running around all summer under the harsh Western Sydney sun, are still able to bring the heat.

"It's a mental game out there in the heat," said rejuvenated forward Trent Merrin.

 

"But we've trained for it all pre-season, we know what it's all about and it's not an excuse when we know we have one of those games in the sun."

Penrith's Nathan Cleary has been superb in the opening two rounds. Picture: Brett Costello
Penrith's Nathan Cleary has been superb in the opening two rounds. Picture: Brett Costello

Prop James Tamou, who was part of a North Queensland side in 2015 that made comebacks their trademark, also reckons the scorching conditions of the pre-season can give Penrith an edge.

"I think the heat might be a factor," Tamou said.

"We've done a pre-season in this sort of heat. As well as they started, and they kept the foot on the pedal there, maybe we outlasted them and they (Souths) couldn't keep up.

"Taking nothing away from them, they gave us nothing. All of our tries we had to stretch out."

Another key to any comeback is to stay calm, which sounds logical but is harder to put into practice when a team has been smacked all around the park for 40 minutes.

Anthony Griffin (right) head coach of the Panthers looks on.
Anthony Griffin (right) head coach of the Panthers looks on.

Natural instinct tells players to get frantic in those moments but skipper Peter Wallace says Penrith have managed to master their emotions, even when huddling behind the tryline.

"No one's really panicked," Wallace said.

"All the talk behind the line when we have been down has been really positive and just focused on what we do next."

That serenity has spread from the coach's box with Tamou revealing Anthony Griffin's messages at half-time helped to convey that same mentality and allowed the Panthers to stick to their guns.

James Tamou on the charge for the Panthers. Picture: Brett Costello
James Tamou on the charge for the Panthers. Picture: Brett Costello

"We walk into the change rooms with our heads down he's the first one (to say) 'put your heads up, you're still in this game' and he'll give us the positives out of that half," Tamou said.

"Hook's driving it, we've got Cameron Ciraldo there and I think everyone's just taking a leaf out (of their book) on what we can achieve if we don't hang our heads."

Penrith have a chance to start the year 3-0 for the first time since 1997 this weekend when they take on the winless Bulldogs.

Given the club's focus this week on starting faster and sustaining that effort through the whole match, another furious comeback may not be required.



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