Pathetic Panthers hit new low
IVAN Cleary conceded Penrith's confidence had crashed to "rock bottom" after the Panthers slumped to the club's worst start to a season in 17 years.
A season that started with so much expectation, following Cleary's return to take over from the sacked Anthony Griffin, officially went on life support on Friday night after the Panthers collapsed to an embarrassing 30-10 loss to the Warriors.
It was their sixth straight loss - the first time that has happened since 2002 - and no NRL team has ever fought back from losing eight of their opening 10 games to make the finals.
What makes it worse is that this time last year under Griffin, with basically the same squad, the Panthers had won seven of 10, and went on to lead the comp after 12 rounds.
On a forgettable night at the foot of the mountains, angry home fans stood and booed their team from the field at half-time and again at full-time, while others started filing out of the ground with a quarter of the match still remaining.
The lacklustre performance is sure to put an end to the State of Origin hopes of under-fire halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney.
But the bigger issue facing the Panthers right now is how they can save their season.
Cleary was at a loss to put a finger on what had gone so horribly wrong.
"What could go wrong does go wrong," he conceded.
"The crucial thing right now is that we actually come together as a team, because right now we are not and that is being shown on the field.
"Confidence is rock bottom. That was obvious tonight."
This is a team most experts considered top four certainties this year but it is hard to see how they can possibly fight back after such an awful start.
They are playing like strangers with and without the ball and some of their basic fundamental errors on Friday night point directly to a lack of confidence.
The missed tackle count of 29 at half-time was appalling, and just as concerning was the ease in which the Warriors scored their two first-half tries.
Issac Luke basically strolled over with a dummy half run for the first, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was giving the Panthers' left edge nightmares as he created space for young Patrick Herbert.
It continued in the second half when Kodi Nikorima also strolled through for a solo try when he stepped straight past Nathan Cleary and Dylan Edwards like it was a game of touch.
If ever there was a moment that summed up the disaster that has been Penrith's season it occurred when Edwards and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak came crashing together while attempting to catch a Blake Green bomb early in the second half.
It was an ugly moment Michael Ennis summed up perfectly in Fox Sports commentary: "It was like a car crash. You could just see it unfolding."
Brad Fittler has showed tremendous support to the NSW halves incumbents but surely he can't possibly pick them now.
As hard as they appear to be trying they just aren't clicking on the field and Origin is not the place to be trying to play yourself back into form, although Cleary was not prepared to write off their chances.
"I don't know, it is hard for me to say," Cleary said. "They were there last year. They have done the job. The selectors know what they are doing."
The back three of the Warriors were outstanding with Tuivasa-Scheck and Ken Maumolo in particular causing havoc. Overall their energy and intent was far superior to their opposition
NZ WARRIORS 30 (P Herbert I Luke K Nikorima A Paasi tries P Herbert 7 goals) bt PENRITH 10 (V Kikau L Martin tries N Cleary goal) at Panthers Stadium. Referee: Henry Perenara, Jon Stone. Crowd: 10,084