What Penrith do best is back themselves to stay in the arm wrestle for the whole match.
They have high completions, few errors and give away few penalties.
You don’t always see it on TV but when you’re at the ground, looking down at the field, you notice how much they work for each other inside and outside the ball.
When the opposition kicks down field, you can see their forwards trying to get behind the ball as quickly as possible.
When they get it right, the Panthers are almost impossible to beat — unless you are at your very best.
Can Manly do that?
How Manly can win
Everything you do on the field is connected. Against the Dragons last week, the Sea Eagles made more clean breaks, ran for more metres, but were still beaten by 26 points because silly errors meant they couldn’t ice their scoring opportunities.
They’re completing their sets at 66 per cent at the moment. When that’s happening, it puts so much pressure on your defence because of the fatigue from the extra workload.
The way teams like Manly attack means there’s extra reliance on their fullback.
It’s stating the obvious, but the absence of Tommy Trbojevic is costing them about 20 points per game. That’s how influential he is.
Dylan Walker is doing his best but he’s struggling to find the combinations in attack with halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.
They also have very little attack out of dummy half.
I’m not having a shot at Lachlan Croker, because he’s playing out of position and the extra workload caused by his side’s silly errors means he doesn’t have any petrol in the tank to create.
But, with the quicker ruck this season, it’s essential to engineer more out of dummy half.
If Manly are to win, Cherry-Evans must kick his side to victory.
With their attack struggling, he needs to roll the dice and try to score a few tries from kicks whenever Crichton is out of position.
Manly need to be as unpredictable as possible because structured set plays against a defensive line as hard-working as Penrith’s won’t cut it.
They have two great ball-players in the forwards.
Marty Taupau has that late left-arm offload, which borders on compulsive, while Jake Trbojevic has the vision and skill of a halfback.
Walker can’t get himself in the right situations with his halves so they need to use these two guys more and play unstructured footy.
Player to watch
I’ll admit it: I never saw Isaah Yeo coming.
I figured he’d be a solid centre who doesn’t miss tackles, doesn’t make errors, but the decision to move him into the forward pack has been a masterstroke.
He gets better and better each season. He plays 80 minutes, does all the tough stuff in the middle and cleans up the defensive errors of others.
When I talk about doing work off the ball, this is the bloke who does so much of it. His efforts aren’t for himself – they’re for his teammates.
And his ball-playing and pass selection is improving with every game.
When I’m coaching halves, I tell them the ball is a magic wand. The defence looks at the ball, not at you.
Watch Nathan Cleary mesmerise Manly with one simple but effective play.
From a wide field position and moving from left to right, he will have two forwards coming under him on an angle.
He will dummy to his two middle forwards and go hard at the edge of the ruck where Manly’s back-rower will be defending.
He will get his back-rower running just to the outside of that defensive back-rower before dummying and slipping through.
It sounds simple, one most halves attempt, but it’s the 10 per cent polish that makes the play special.
Cleary is one of the best in the competition at “tempo running”.
When he comes across, showing the ball, he’s running fast-to-slow, fast-to-slow, and what this does is make the defence sit on its heels and stop.
Once he dummies to those two players, he gets the ball out in front and shows the ball.
He will mesmerise the defensive back-rower, throw the dummy, and slip through.
This game will be closer than people think because Manly will aim up physically.
I just question where they’re going to find points against a Penrith side as well drilled as this one. I expect the Panthers to win the arm wrestle and then run away with it.
JOEY’S TIP: Penrith by 12.
FIRST TRYSCORER: Viliame Kikau.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Nathan Cleary.
Andrew Johns is an Immortal, a Newcastle great and a commentator for Channel Nine