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Penrith perform perfect flip on NRL starts

A determination to stop playing catch-up football has inspired Penrith to transform from one of the worst starters in the NRL to the best in more than 40 years.

The Panthers have not conceded a point in the opening 20 minutes of a game since round one.

It’s a far cry from 2019 when they were the third-worst starters in the league, with only Brisbane and St George Illawarra conceding more points in the same period.

“We work a lot on starting fast,” Penrith centre Stephen Crichton said.

“We’ve had a few years where we started slow and were playing catch-up footy.

“This year we have worked a lot on training harder and starting faster. It’s been a real goal for us.”

Their feat stands the test of time too, ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster clash with Canberra at Panthers Stadium.

Since Fox Sports Stats have kept such records from 1980, no team has ever gone 11 straight matches without conceding a point in the first 20 minutes.

And it’s allowed Nathan Cleary to do what he does best in managing the game from the front.

Since the return from the COVID-19 break, Penrith have trailed on the scoreboard for just 31 minutes out of the 810 they have spent on the park.

“They are purring at the moment, it’s good to watch,” Panthers great Mark Geyer told AAP.

“By all reports their off-season was one of their best in recent time.

“All the boys came back breaking records on the track and in the weights room, and I suppose that has been a flow-on effect.”

Geyer puts much of Penrith’s record starts down to attitude, as well as at the feet of their support staff.

In a disrupted year it could’ve been expected that the most inexperienced roster in the NRL would go off the boil and become distracted.

But’ it has been the opposite, with the Panthers coming out of a lockdown in the best shape.

“A lot of credit has to go to Hayden Knowles and Craig Catterick too, their high-performance trainers,” Geyer, who won the 1991 decider against Canberra, said.

“A lot of what we are seeing at the moment in footy, it’s the men behind the scenes.

“They seemed to be the most proactive in lockdown about doing the extra training.

“They had blokes in blocks who were on zoom (video conference) to Hayden every day for training.

“And it’s paid dividends.”

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