Penrith’s high-flying young guns are poised to break another club record in their 2020 title march as they prepare to confirm their status as minor premiers.
The Panthers can end one of the NRL’s great strangleholds against North Queensland on Friday night, with a win enough to secure first place.
In doing so, Ivan Cleary’s men will become the first team to steal the historic JJ Giltinan Shield from the Sydney Roosters or Melbourne since Canterbury in 2012.
It will also make them just the third Panthers side in history to claim the prize, after their 1991 and 2003 premiership-winning teams.
Regardless, they will finish a 10th consecutive round at the top of the NRL’s ladder – a streak never achieved in the Panthers’ 53-year history.
“It (the minor premiership) is a huge carrot for us,” Cleary said.
“In football – the biggest sport in the world – it’s their major premiership in most countries, if not all.
“We would definitely be very proud to achieve that.
“It’s not done yet but we’re very keen to get our hands on that trophy, there is a great history on that Shield.”
Even before the finals begin in a fortnight, Penrith’s 2020 season is already one for the ages.
They are just the sixth team in history to have won 13 straight games in the same season, and just the third to have only suffered one loss by round 18.
More remarkable is the fact that they’ve done it while having the NRL’s youngest squad at the start of the season.
And it’s not lost on Cleary the kind of class his team will join Melbourne and the Roosters as far as recent minor premiership winners, and the confidence his side can take to the finals.
“That says it all in consistency and for us to get into that company is a string to our bow,” Cleary said.
“It definitely gives us confidence, but we’ve probably already got that confidence from the way we have been able to be consistent this season.
“The trophy, if we can get hold of it, is a true reflection of that.
“When it comes down to the big games and finals when you have that consistency and performance in the bank, it gives you a lot more confidence.”
Cleary confirmed Jack Hetherington would face the Cowboys on return from suspension and a loan at the Warriors, with Penrith resting players for the first time this year.
Apisai Koroisau, James Tamou and Zane Tevevano will sit the game out.
Meanwhile the Cowboys expect Jason Taumalolo to return from his calf injury, but only on restricted minutes, with Ben Condon to make his NRL debut.
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