Penrith are in a golden position to set up their season through the State of Origin period, with their players off the radar for NSW and Queensland.
Penrith have a chance to go top of the NRL ladder by the end of the State of Origin period, with the high-flying Panthers seemingly off the radar for NSW and Queensland selectors.
Already second on the table and just one win behind first-placed Canterbury, the mountain men have a golden opportunity over the next six weeks to set up their season.
The Panthers have several New Zealand internationals in their line-up, a bunch of youngsters not yet in Origin contention and two experienced halves who were overlooked by NSW selectors.
But it’s proving an ideal formula for coach Ivan Cleary, who is no stranger to sailing through this period of year from his years at the Warriors.
While other NRL teams are struggling to fire amid the high Origin attrition rate, the Panthers are purring.
Last year, the Kiwi-centric Warriors won seven of eight matches through the Origin period.
Winger Josh Mansour is the only Panther being talked about for game two duties, and Penrith are primed to ride the slipstream.
“It can only be a benefit for the Panthers,” said Kiwi back-rower Elijah Taylor.
“We do have a young side.”
Penrith will start favourites away to Gold Coast this weekend and then clash with a St George Illawarra outfit next week minus Trent Merrin and possibly Josh Dugan.
They then have a bye straight after Origin II, before heading to Auckland for a tough road trip in round 16.
On the eve of Origin III, Penrith tackle a Wests Tigers side without linchpin Robbie Farah and, after that, they catch a Brisbane side who will have several players backing up or unavailable from the Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have to back up and play before and after Origins II and III.
Taylor says the Panthers are starting to gel under Cleary and he believes the side’s best football is ahead of them.
“We’re still learning about each other’s games and still building combinations and timing,” he said.
“You look back three years ago and it’s a whole new Panthers roster.
“Ivan’s a great coach and a great bloke as well and that’s important. He’s straight to the point – there’s no beating around the bush.
“All the boys respect him and want to play for him.”