The Panthers are on a NRL season equaling six match unbeaten streak.
But it’s fair to say that despite their unbeaten run, the side also hasn’t played to its full potential in that time either.
While Penrith have dominated teams in the second half, having outscored the opposition 82-36 in that six game run, it’s been a far different story in the first half where the Panthers have led at the break only on three occasions with a 60-48 for and against advantage.
Wrong options and an inability to create pressure on the last tackle have been the main factors behind the Panthers often finishing the first half often level pegging or even trailing their opponents.
Hence while Penrith’s latest victory over an injury-riddled Cowboys side, may have been a welcome relief to James Tamou, the former North Queensland premiership-winning prop says that the still relatively inexperienced team needs to quickly address those first half issues if they are to compete with the better sides.
“It’s been good that we finish strongly in those second halves but if we are going to really compete with the top teams we really need to start our games a lot faster,” Tamou told Nepean News.
“The talent that this team possess is unreal but our last tackle options, whether we need to push the ball to try and offload or not, those things comes with experience.
“The results go to show that we can play but at crucial times of the game, sometimes we just really need to knuckle down and get to a kick.”
Freely admitting that a slow start to his first season as a Panther cost him his spot in the NSW State of Origin squad, Tamou says that his omission gave him the kick along to improve his form in recent weeks and hasn’t given up on a State of Origin recall in 2018.
When compared to his overall season performance, the former Kangaroo has lifted over the past six weeks to average over 112m per game and has broken the line twice to score, whilst maintaining a healthy 94% tackle efficiency in defence.
“I knew personally that with other players going well enough to play, it was always going to be tough,” Tamou replied.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be in the mix but it did give me a boost to want to be better and obviously there is next year to look forward to.”
The Panthers are now on the brink of becoming one of a select few sides in NRL history to recover from a 2-7 win loss record to qualify for the finals, with the prop forward conceding that start to the season may well have been a blessing in disguise given they went into the season with the added burden of being unexpected co-premiership favorites.
“There could be a silver lining there (from that start),” Tamou declared.
“Obviously at the start of the year we were favorites.
“But (what happened since) was kind of good too as it took everything away and allowed us to start again, play our game and it’s starting to work out now.
“Being a long year, we knew that as long as we were competing we would be amongst it (at the business end of the season).
“But we need to be better at a few more things.
“We know we have the team, and if we can put it all together now, we’ll be right up there.”
But standing in the way of Penrith making back-to-back finals for the first time since 2003-04 are Canberra, St George-Illawarra and Manly.
While excited the team is within reach of making the finals, Tamou warns that the team will need to play better against their looming opponents and can’t afford to look too far ahead.
“It’s always exciting (the prospect of playing finals) but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves and just need to take each game as it comes,” Tamou said.
“The Raiders I think will definitely be a really tough game and the Dragons are finding some form again too.
“If we can be better than how we started today, our results will come off that and we’ll be there (come September).”