Penrith kept their season alive with their 16-8 victory over the Sea Eagles on Saturday night and front-rower James Tamou revealed the side had an emphasis on shutting down Manly prop Martin Taupau during the week.
Tamou’s move to the foot of the mountains has been low-key with the former Australian international’s statistics well below the numbers that saw him feature in representative teams while at the Cowboys.
He produced arguably his best performance in a Panthers jersey on the weekend however with 155 metres and the opening four-pointer in the sides eight-point win.
Along with teammates Trent Merrin, Leilani Latu and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, the forward pack matched Manly up front – a contrast to their 28-point defeat a week earlier to South Sydney.
“I think it all just built up after the last week against the Rabbitohs where we weren’t great. We really needed that win and we didn’t care how we got there,” Tamou told NRL.com.
“We knew we had to lay the platform and let the backs work and their forwards were really good and have been consistent the last five weeks.
“We knew it was going to be won in the middle and needed to show up.”
Tamou admitted the Panthers did their homework more than usual on the Sea Eagles during the week and in particular on Taupau, who along with NSW forward Jake Trbojevic have been the driving force behind Manly in 2017.
The Kiwi international still managed 156 metres with four offloads but had a less than usual impact on the result.
“In the last couple of weeks we gathered he had the most offloads and more than some teams alone so a stat like we had to shut it down and they play a lot of second phase off him,” Tamou said of Taupau.
“The move from the Tigers has been big for him and he’s not an easy man to tackle but I thought Reg (Campbell-Gillard) was great too and really took him on and did a job.
“[Reagan] is very raw and unreal to play with because he sparks something from nothing. He can come out of the line and put a big hit on so still has a lot to learn but for his age and experience he is a talent.”
The Panthers head across the Tasman in Round 19 where they’ll take on the Warriors who are equal with them on 18 competition points.
It is always a significant return to New Zealand for Tamou after the 28-year-old was born in Palmerston before moving to Australia as a teenager.
With a four-point buffer between the ninth-placed Panthers and eighth-placed Parramatta Eels, Tamou is well aware that the side needs to play do-or-die football for the remainder of the season.
“It’s always good going back there to see the family but none the less, from here on out every game is important to make the eight and play finals football,” he said.
“We’re in that situation on the table where there are a few of us like the Cowboys, Parramatta and the Dragons that are right there in the mix so a couple more wins and a few upsets on them gives us plenty of belief.”
Penrith will play four home games in a row upon their return from New Zealand that will benefit the side’s late push for a finals berth.
The Warriors let a 22-point half-time lead slip the last time the teams met in Round 10 at Pepper Stadium as Penrith surged home in the second half with five unanswered tries.
“That was a crazy game,” Tamou said.
“The Warriors are physical and the game earlier in the year we were able to come from behind but we won’t be able to afford to start like that again.
“We did get on a bit of a roll after that win so that’s what we are looking for again. They’re also coming off a bye which will freshen them up so I’m expecting a physical one.”