AAP Rugby

Penrith go from worst in NRL ruck to best

By AAP Newswire

Penrith's emphasis on cleaning up the ruck is paying dividends with the Panthers going from the NRL's worst offenders to the new kings of the play-the-ball.

Their rapid rise to the top of the NRL ladder has been built on their young cubs learning the ropes quickly this year.

But an AAP analysis of Fox Sports' ruck infringement figures shows just how far they have come.

In the first eight weeks after the competition restart, Penrith conceded the most set restarts per game in defence with 5.4 and were awarded the least with 2.4.

That deficit mystified coach Ivan Cleary and his coaching staff, who questioned how their ratio could be so poor compared to the rest of the competition.

A heavy focus on getting the tackler's hand off the ball at training has paid off.

In the past eight rounds, Penrith have given away just 3.1 set restarts per game while their up-tempo play has forced an NRL high 5.25 in attack.

Suddenly, they are the biggest beneficiaries of the rule over the past two months.

"We had a big focus on it at training, just in defence, cleaning up the ruck," second-rower Liam Martin said.

"Just little things where we can improve.

"Some people had their hands all over the ball and we improved on those key areas, just trying to get discipline better.

"It was challenging (early on). It certainly was quite hard on the fitness.

"Obviously we have improved our discipline and it's a big benefit in the game."

The tough start to the year taught the Panthers the kind of resilience that will come in handy come finals when momentum swings do go against them.

Penrith handle six-again calls as well as any team in the competition, having only conceded five tries in the ensuing set this year.

Only Parramatta have conceded less, with four.

"We have learned from that like with six agains we have each others backs," centre Stephen Crichton said.

"We've had a lot of training where the coach just gives us extra drills."

Meanwhile, Cleary has began resting players in the run-in to the finals.

While Apisai Koroisau, James Tamou and Zane Tetevano will miss Friday night's clash with North Queensland, other forwards have sat out training sessions this week.

PENRITH'S SET RESTART STATS

Rounds 3-10

Conceded: 20 (16th)

Awarded: 43 (16th)

Ledger: -23 (16th)

Rounds 11-18

Conceded: 25 (4th)

Awarded: 42 (1st)

Ledger: +17 (1st)