Experts Roar: Who is Panthers’ biggest threat – Storm, Sharks, Roosters, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Eels?

Penrith are overwhelming favourites to defend their NRL title this year but which team is their biggest threat.

There are eight other teams in the hunt for the title as we head into the final three rounds of the regular season.

The Panthers are six points clear at the top of the ladder and there is no standout option as the team most likely to give the premiers a run for their money.

North Queensland and Cronulla are next on the ladder as they return to the finals after missing out last year while the Broncos are also back in the playoffs after a rapid rise up the ladder.

Perennial threats Melbourne have been injured and not as dominant as past seasons, Souths and the Roosters are surging but may have to qualify from the bottom half of the finals while Parramatta have beaten the Panthers twice this season but their recent form has been patchy.

The Roar experts have their say and if you’d like to do likewise, fire away in the comments section below.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Experts Roar – Coach of the year

Michael Hagan (premiership-winning player and coach)

Melbourne are my pick for the team that could knock the Panthers off. They should finish in the top four and they have a huge rivalry with Penrith from the finals over the past couple of years.

Their form is improving and could even turn out to be better than Penrith’s heading into the finals.

Paul Suttor (Roar expert)

Parramatta are capable of knocking off Penrith but the trouble for them is getting far enough to do so. They’ll likely finish in the bottom half of the playoff bracket but now that Mitchell Moses looks like he’s over his finger injury, they could build some momentum heading into the finals.

They nearly knocked off the Panthers in last year’s playoffs and they are the only team that has beaten them twice this year – the only other time Ivan Cleary’s crew lost a game was last weekend when they had several players out against Melbourne.

(Photo by Steven Markham/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Tim Gore (Roar expert)

South Sydney: One of the least attractive features of the Panthers – who play a superb brand of football – and their fans, is their predilection for rubbing the noses of the vanquished into their failures. Whether that be doing the ‘Mocking Clap’, dragging opposition players into their post-try celebrations or by endlessly harping on about an opposition action that didn’t go so well – such as Cody Walker’s intercepted pass in the 2021 decider – it doesn’t engender much love for them across the NRL universe.

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Whatever you might say at the time, that stuff gets burnt into the retinas of the beaten. Used well, it serves to drive players to greater heights to get revenge and go one better. The Rabbitohs would really be craving a chance for revenge.

Since the Origin period, the Rabbitohs have won eight of their 10 games to propel themselves into fifth spot. If they win their remaining three games, and other results fall their way, they could push into the top four.

Their run in of the weakened Panthers, Cowboys at home, before meeting their local rivals, the Roosters, at the new Allianz Stadium is tough but quite achievable. The Bunnies’ attacking footy is exactly the sort of thing that can beat any team too. And they’ll have a lot of players backing up from the 2021 GF who’d just love to deliver some sweet payback.

Mike Meehall Wood (Roar expert)

I don’t think the Cowboys or Sharks are going to pose much of a threat to the Panthers, but the biggest challenge will lie lower. They’ve already lost to Parramatta twice and might actually benefit from meeting them in Week 1, where they can put that demon to bed in a consequence-free environment.

If I’m Ivan Cleary however, I’m really, really hoping that I don’t run into the Roosters or Souths, who are improving every week that comes. Whoever gets the Roosters in the finals is in trouble.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

South Sydney have been in absolutely gorgeous form at the right time of the season.  The reason I think they are such a threat is Latrell Mitchell. 

Not only is he talented in his own right and able to create opportunity out of very little but it’s clear how much impact he has on the rest of his team.  He’s a leader and every South Sydney player plays better when he on the field.  On their day I think Souths can beat any team in the competition. 

Stuart Thomas (Roar expert)

Considering that momentum heading into the finals is the most valuable of assets, I’d suggest the Sharks might have as good a chance as any of preventing a rare consecutive premiership for the Panthers. 

Cronulla have won eight of their past nine matches, face the Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Knights on the run home and could well secure the advantage of a top-two finish considering their upcoming draw. With Nicho Hynes controlling things superbly, the Sharks continue to improve and despite the fact that the Storm and Panthers proved too strong for them earlier in the season, the signs are there that this Cronulla team has not only the skill to produce points, but also the grunt and firepower required to match the best teams through the middle. 

In what looks like an open finals’ series should the Panthers suffer any more hiccups on the run home, the Sharks’ form suggest they could well be the team to most threaten the reigning champs.

Nicho Hynes celebrates. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

AJ Mithen (Roar expert)

The Storm are battered, the Storm are bruised, the Storm have had a comparatively ‘off’ season but they’re still likely to finish in the top four and that’s where they can do real damage.

Melbourne’s defence is the key – they won’t be blowing teams off the park in the finals but their discipline and attention in defence is what wins games and frustrates opponents. If it comes down to a Storm/Panthers prelim or grand final, I think Melbourne have the game plan to squeak past. Whether they’ll have the cattle on the park, that’s a different question.

Joe Frost (Roar expert)

You’ve got to hand it to Trent Robinson. Yet another year where so many wrote the Roosters off due to early-season – I mean, do you even call them woes? Un-greatness is really as bad as I can muster. But the Francophile 45-year-old has, once again, got his team humming at the time of the year that matters.

Does greatness await again in 2022? History suggests winning the comp from outside the top four is an impossibility in the modern game – y’know, just like going back-to-back.

But with a fearsome front-row combo, three of the game’s finest fullbacks somehow squeezed into one backline, and fit and firing halves? Mate, the Chooks are coming.

Danielle Smith (Roar expert)

The Cowboys have been the season’s surprise packet and can surely push the premiers. When they faced off earlier in the season they were missing some big names, but at full strength, they can go all the way.

With the assumed coach of the year in Todd Payten, Rookie of the Year in Jeremiah Nanai, plus the rest of the talent across the park, they can do it. And they now have the extra motivation to win for Paul Green.

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