The collective noun for a group of panthers is a claw, but a panther’s claw has never been observed in the wild.
That’s because panthers are solitary creatures. They don’t travel in packs – unless, of course, they’re the kind of panthers that come from Penrith.
Betting on Penrith has been an easy way to make money for the past two and a half seasons, so in hindsight it shouldn’t be too surprising that New South Wales came out on top after betting their Origin lives on a particular Panthers claw .
Brad Fittler picked seven current Panthers for Origin II in Perth, and debutant Matt Burton had an eighth player known at the foot of the mountains, but he didn’t just entrust the fate of the series to some of the best players from the most dominant side of the NRL – he let the Blues mimic the best of Ivan Cleary’s relentless winning machine.
There is no secret of what Penrith does or how they do it. For all of their recent wins, the recipe is often the same, and it’s one that the Blues followed to the letter in their 44-12 win.
It didn’t happen from the opening whistle. There was real pressure on New South Wales heading into this match – the blades had come out after their shock loss in Sydney and the heat had applied after Fittler’s litany of team changes.
So for starters, the Blues were a little hectic, a little insecure about themselves. They knew what they wanted to do, but getting there was a challenge.
Through those many Panther connections, they got to the place they needed to find.
It was through Burton’s sharp chase to a clever Cleary kick for their first attempt, and Jarome Luai and Burton who came together to corner Brian To’o for their second attempt.
Burton is a Bulldog by trade, but he learned his trade as a Panther and he was a steady hand and a bummer in the early stages when the Blues needed it.
We talk a lot about certain guys who are “Origin players” or make “Origin games”.
There’s no real definition for what that means, it’s something you just know when you see it and when Burton is around you see it a lot.
It was in the second half, after the Blues had held a narrow lead at halftime, when everything became clear.
If the Blues did what Penrith do, if they stayed on the job, controlled possession, attacked the Queensland rear with torturous bombs and a rugged defence, the life out of every Maroon man who drove the ball away and attacked with comparable aggression and zeal with the ball in hand and they all did it again and again and again, they would win.
If they could prove they were more willing to turn your desperation into a weapon, if they were willing to be bolder and more ruthless, and refused to ever back down, they would eventually get there. It might take 15 minutes or 50 minutes or 79 minutes 59 seconds, but they would get there.
The Panthers play that way and they play that style and they trust it, real trust, and almost always it ends with the crushing of the opposition, and then there’s a cloud of dust, a cry of pain, some blood on the floor and the game is gone.
Penrith won the premiership last year.
This year they stormed to the top of the ladder.
That’s how there are so many of them on this side of New South Wales and that’s how the Blues put 44 points on Queensland to force a decision.
It took about 25 minutes of the second half for Queensland to burst and once the Maroons broke, the Blues played all the classic Panther hits and loved every second.
Luai scored a try out of nowhere, threw the “W” with his hands, because all he loves more than fighting and winning is representing Western Sydney, and shouted into the air. To’o did all the hard work you could ask for, and then did a little more.
Cleary, in his prime as an Origin player, dictated the terms, set up a few tries and ended up with a lot of points.
Isaah Yeo was fantastic in every way in the center of the field and showed again why he is the best striker in the world.
Burton came in at the reunion with more bombs that you don’t dare look them in the eye or they’ll go crazy.
Liam Martin threw himself around without regard for life or limb.
If the color on your TV wasn’t right, you could have sworn they were still wearing black sweaters.
Stephen Crichton and Api Koroisau didn’t quite get their moments in the spotlight, but that’s how it is with Penrith – not everyone has to be a star every time as there is so much talent and so many players who can share the burden.
It would be wrong to just portray this victory as a Panther triumph. James Tedesco was once again fantastic as a fullback – if another player produced a game like the Roosters fullback he would be a certainty for the man of the match but as Tedesco has done it so many times we have come to expect this kind of performance .
Jake Trbojevic was strong on the return and Junior Paulo was great from the bench, erasing memories of his struggles in Sydney.
And how much the Penrith Gambit paid off, it may not be enough to win at Lang Park.
The Temple of Queensland is nearly impossible to storm – the Blues have only won two deciders there in Origin history.
The Maroons didn’t play with the desperation and anger they showed in Sydney, perhaps because they knew they had that ace up their sleeve.
They have nearly half a century of Queensland mythology behind them, and all the spirit, brilliance and history that goes with it.
But the Panthers way is to play fearlessly no matter what, even in the face of eternity.
Is that enough to overwhelm the magic of the Maroons on home soil? There’s only one way to find out.