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Panthers playmakers urged to step up

Former Penrith premiership-winning captain and True Blue Greg Alexander has urged the Panthers to dig deep and bring back the kind of form that led them to 12 straight wins at the start of the 2021 season.

The Panthers are outsiders to beat Melbourne Storm in Saturday afternoon’s Preliminary Final at Suncorp Stadium with the loser bowing out of the premiership race and the winner moving on to the NRL Grand Final the following week.

“There’s no doubt when you look at (the Panthers) attack it’s not as free-flowing, it hasn’t got the rhythm it did in the first half of the season and there’s plenty of reasons for that,” Alexander said.

“The five or six games (halfback) Nathan (Cleary) had out (shoulder) certainly disrupted the season for the Panthers and they’ve just been slow getting back to that absolute brilliant best.

“They’re not far off at all but it needs to happen on Saturday afternoon, because anything but their absolute best won’t be good enough to win the game.”

Alexander said even though the Storm had a week off after winning their opening finals match in week one, and weren’t missing any key players with winger Josh Addo-Carr back from a hamstring injury, it was not beyond the realms of possibility for a Penrith victory.

“There’s no doubt the Panthers have the ability to put together a game much like they were playing earlier on – they just need a couple of individuals to stand up,” he said.

“Jarome (Luai) has been a little bit quiet in attack.

“Nathan is the key for Penrith I think but he needs those around him to be doing what they did in the first half of the season.”

Alexander said the Storm had endured their own injury worries but things were falling into place.

“They’ve played most of the season this year without their entire squad fully fit,” he said of injuries to Ryan Papenhuyzen, Dale Finucane, George Jennings, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tui Kamikamica, Harry Grant, Cameron Munster and Tom Eisenhuth.

“But they’ve got an embarrassment of riches with Nicho Hynes coming off the bench for them, the two hookers (Brandon) Smith and Grant have been great for them.

“Jahrome Hughes has probably been their most consistent player, Justin Olam arguably the best centre of 2021 – his combination with ‘Foxx’ has produced a mountain of tries down that (left) side of the field.”

Thirty-five to be exact – 23 to Addo-Carr and 12 to Olam. It all added up for Penrith to be as sturdy in defence as they are brilliant in attack.

“Sides that win the comp are always the sides that defend the best and Penrith have been great in both facets throughout the season,” Alexander said.

“In a season where records have been tumbling… that game last week (Parramatta) where there were only two tries in it, and no-one scored in the second half, it was a classic defensive game.

“So, Penrith will need to put it all together – they’ll need to defend like their lives count on it and they’ll need to be pretty crisp with the ball… they can’t get away with not playing up to standard.”

Alexander was captain of the 1990 side that lost 18-14 to Canberra in the 1990 grand final only to reverse fortunes and beat Canberra 19-12 in the 1991 decider – it’s the 30th anniversary this year.

Penrith lost to the Storm 26-20 in 2020 and will be out for a bit of revenge on Saturday to get to their second consecutive grand final once more.

“That’s been with them all year that motivation,” Alexander said.

“Whenever you feel a bit flat you just think about what happened because there’s no disappointment like losing a grand final – it does spur you on to do better things and make sure you win one.”