Roosters 0 Panthers 18
Two-try hero Michael Jennings makes a foray into the Roosters' territory. Photo: Steve Christo
When your captain comes calling to talk some home truths, and he's one of the most respected players in the game and you have a reputation for letting yourself and your teammates down through a lack of application, it's time to either start listening or start thinking about going somewhere else to play.
Lachlan Coote of the Panthers scoots away from the Sydney Roosters defence. Photo: Getty Images
Because while rugby league is a game that, through its forgiving nature, offers people - whether they be players, coaches or officials - multiple chances to succeed, if you keep letting others down, you're going to find yourself on your last chance eventually.
Michael Jennings is not a bad guy. He's only 23, so he's still a kid, really, and bound to make mistakes off the field. But he is earning a fortune in a game which, because of the restrictions of the salary cap, is able to pay only a minority the sort of money he's getting, and under those circumstances Penrith are entitled to demand he be consistently at or near his best.
He hit his lowest point last August, when he was dropped for a Friday night game after turning up to a training session the previous afternoon still feeling the effects of alcohol. Panthers boss Phil Gould warned Jennings he was on his last chance at the club and ordered him to pay for 2000 general admission tickets to a Penrith game, which he then distributed to the fans at the game from which he was stood down. The cost was $22,000.
Fast forward to yesterday, and Jennings scored two critical tries for Penrith in an 18-0 win on the road against Sydney Roosters. Add the try he scored in the first-round loss to Canterbury and that is already three times as many tries as he scored in the whole of last season. One try in 15 games was anything but Jennings-like, since he had scored 60 in his previous 90.
Talking about where the performance yesterday by Jennings had come from, Penrith captain Luke Lewis said: ''He's been training very well this year. Me and 'Jenko' have had a bit of a talk, and I said to Jenko I needed him to try to lead the team as well as he can and take that forward step and be one of the players that everyone's looking to count on when we need some points. I think he's showed that in the last couple of weeks, and I think he's starting to enjoy his footy again.''
Asked if he took it upon himself, as captain, to engage in the frank discussion with the brilliant but sometimes erratic centre, Lewis replied: ''We had a little bit of time to ourselves in the All Stars game [last month]. We had a bit of a chat there, and I basically just said: 'Look, everyone looks up to you in our team, and I need you to rise up to that because you're the man to go to when we need some points.' So he's definitely stood up, and I think he's taken that role on really well.''
Only time will tell if Jennings becomes the consistently great player we all know he can be, but the manner in which he scored his two tries yesterday makes it a lip-smacking proposition. It was one of those games that was made for a star to descend upon with one or two big plays and essentially make the difference, and he did that.
The Roosters were lucky to beat South Sydney in the first round. It was a real get-out-of-jail effort. The Panthers had played well for a good part of their game against the Bulldogs, but couldn't close the deal. Yesterday, it looked like the Roosters had used up all their luck for the time being and the Panthers had learnt from their loss.
Whether that means anything for either team going into next week's round is debatable. You can't predict anything with confidence in this competition.
PENRITH 18 (M Jennings 2 S McKendry tries L Walsh 3 goals) bt SYDNEY ROOSTERS 0 at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Chris James, Adam Devcich. Crowd: 12,746.