Coaches the world over are on the hunt for marginal gains and in his 21st season in charge of Melbourne, Craig Bellamy has taken preparations for Penrith to new levels by making his second-string side wear imitation Panthers jerseys.
Melbourne are long outsiders for Friday’s preliminary-final against the Panthers, but in a bid to prepare them for what is to come, the Storm’s top-line NRL stars conducted an opposed session against the club’s reserves, who were decked out in black.
The Panthers have enjoyed a 6-3 record against the Storm since the start of 2020 and Melbourne staff sought to prepare their side by buying plain black t-shirts and printing Penrith’s logo and sponsors on the front.
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Penrith players saw the funny side when photos showing Tepai Moeroa and George Jennings donning replica Panthers kits made their way online on Tuesday.
“That was weird, it was the first time I have seen that,” laughed Panthers prop Moses Leota.
“It is funny to see how other teams prepare.”
Fellow front-rower James Fisher-Harris described the ploy as “smart” and said he would have no issues if Panthers coach Ivan Cleary were to ask him to pull on a Storm jersey.
“Whatever it is to help the team, that’s why they’re doing it,” Fisher-Harris said.
It’s not uncommon for NRL squads to plan for opposition players by getting reserves to run favoured patterns of play.
Rising Penrith prop Lindsay Smith, who was rewarded with a two-year contract extension on Tuesday, has done his fair share of imitation in practice sessions.
“We’ve never had to train in other teams jerseys,” Smith said.
“I saw that today and had a little giggle.
“For our boys that aren’t playing each week they will try and emulate the opposition team, the Storm have found a different way to do that this week.”
While this week’s training may have been slightly unorthodox for the Storm, Penrith are hoping it will be business as usual as they aim to reach a fourth-straight grand-final.
The Panthers are confident Jarome Luai will be fit to take the field after being sidelined with a dislocated shoulder while any concerns over a potential finger injury for Nathan Cleary have been allayed.
“I think Nathan’s sweet and I didn’t see that because we trained in separate groups and heard he went to hospital,” Smith said.
“With Jarome, we’ve got our biggest session today (Wednesday).
“Jarome would be a massive lift, he’s one of the best players in the game.
“Hopefully he’s ready to go, I’d love nothing more than to play alongside him.”
Their ability to take the field will be complemented by the return of centre Izack Tago from a pectoral injury, ensuring Penrith are at full strength for the first time this year.
“I can’t remember when we have had a full strength team,” Fisher-Harris said.
“It’s become normal for us with a next man-up sort of thing.
“Fingers crossed the boys will be sweet, it doesn’t matter who you are, you pull on a jersey and you have a job to do.”
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