Rep period silencing Panthers' NRL hopes

Scott Bailey

Penrith's prolonged period without their playmakers at training is starting to show after the NRL premiership contenders dropped consecutive games for the first time this season.

The Panthers are now fourth after they were shocked 18-10 by Manly on Saturday, in what was arguably close to their worst performance of the year.

With their representative players available, Penrith completed at just 68 per cent and scored just one try against a Manly team that has proven leaky at times this year.

But there are are underlying reasons.

NSW halves James Maloney and Nathan Cleary have barely trained with the team since they went into camp for the State of Origin series opener on May 28.

Since then, the pair weren't around the team during their round 13 bye week, played Canberra without a full session and then were given part of the week off before the Sydney Roosters game.

They then returned to the Panthers earlier this week ahead of Saturday's loss, but again had a disrupted start to preparations.

Other key playmaker Tyrone Peachey - who is now playing at centre - has also missed just as much.

It's showed too, as they scraped home against the Raiders in round 14 and have then turned in their worst two attacking games of the season in terms of points scored and completion rates in the past fortnight.

"We've just lost a bit of rhythm and momentum at the moment and we're not where we need to be," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things. You can make a lot of excuses. Everyone is going through it.

"Manly had their issues as well. We've had a lot of good games this year but today wasn't our best."

It's for that reason Griffin can see the positives heading into Friday's clash with the Warriors, which his Origin players will miss.

Penrith are desperate to avoid going three straight losses, knowing that their previous mid-season momentum would take a serious hit with the beaten run.

"It's a really important game for us," Griffin said.

"Next week we will have a group of guys who are together all week. It will be an uninterrupted week.

"I think this will be a good thing for us even though we're missing our Origin players. We'll re-group and get better."

Meanwhile Griffin is hopeful dynamite second-rower Viliame Kikau is available, after he suffered a high cork of the knee in Saturday's loss.

Waqa Blake and Corey Harawira-Naera are also likely to return from injury, while Tyrone May and Jerome Luai are likely to deputise in the halves for Cleary and Maloney.

"Hopefully it's just a really bad cork on the top of the knee there (for Kikau)," Griffin said.

"The doctors are optimistic there is no structural damage. He's just got a really bad bump."