Penrith on hunt for NRL minor premiership

·2-min read

Slowly returning to full strength, Penrith plan on shifting up a gear as they drive towards successive NRL minor premierships for the first time in the club's 55-season history.

The Panthers' record run of 12 straight wins to open their 2021 campaign came to a screeching halt with back-to-back defeats to Wests Tigers and Cronulla while depleted during the State of Origin series.

But with the gruelling Origin period behind them, superstar halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai to return in coming weeks and the rest of their representative brigade already back on deck, the Panthers are primed for another push for the J.J. Giltinan Shield.

It won't be easy and their hopes, realistically, hinge on winning next week's mouth-watering match-up with Melbourne.

That clash at AAMI Park shapes as not only a 2020 grand final rematch but, despite South Sydney, Parramatta and the like having a say in it, also seemingly a 2021 title decider between the competition's two heavyweights.

Skipper Isaah Yeo on Tuesday was trotting out the "one game at a time" cliche ahead of Penrith's meeting with hapless Brisbane on Saturday night, but conceded the Storm showdown loomed large as a defining game of the regular season.

Currently equal atop the ladder on competition points, Melbourne enjoy a 92-point advantage in the all-important differential stakes that serves as the finals tiebreaker.

"It's a big one for the Penrith fans," Yeo said of the coming blockbuster.

"Melbourne are red-hot at the minute. They're obviously starting well and just blowing teams off the park early.

"They're probably the benchmark at the minute."

With big games also coming against every other top-five side - the Rabbitohs, Eels and Sydney Roosters - the Panthers are treating the last seven rounds as a mini finals series and know their minor premiership fate will be determined by the results.

"We've got a really important back-end stretch," Yeo said.

"I think it helps. You obviously want to be versing all those teams and you'll be battle-hardened for the semi-finals.

"Those games are perfect for that and with the games we've got coming up and the teams we're versing, if you win those then obviously you're putting yourself right up there.

"If anyone ties with Melbourne on points, they're probably not going to win that because of their differential at the minute. Melbourne are something like 400-plus, a record.

"But with the run home we've got and the teams we're versing, obviously if we win those, we'll give ourselves every chance."

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