Penrith coach Ivan Cleary admits his side will have a question mark over them coming into the NRL finals despite extending their winning run to 12 games.
The Panthers have provisionally moved five points clear of Melbourne on top of the ladder with three regular-season games left after holding out a spirited Brisbane side 25-12 on Thursday night.
Halves Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai helped their side overcome a quiet start to keep the Penrith juggernaut rolling along, becoming the first team to win a dozen straight since eventual premiers Cronulla in 2016.
But Cleary said the Panthers would still have plenty to prove in the finals, admitting his young side’s mental toughness would be questioned.
The Panthers fielded a near full-strength side against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, however, eight players boasted less than 35 NRL games of experience.
Asked if Penrith were mentally tough enough to go all the way, Cleary said: “That’s what we will find out, I guess.
“We will go into the finals with that question mark just because we don’t necessarily have a lot of experience.
“We haven’t got a lot of experience playing NRL games but we manage to do that okay.
“And we have no experience in the COVID break or new ruck interpretations (and lead ladder) but …who knows, we will see.”
In the meantime, Cleary has his sights set on the minor premiership.
“A minor premiership in any season would be a great honour – we’d love to do it,” he said.
“It would be a credit to whoever wins it for consistency over the home-and-away season and that’s been a real highlight for us, our consistency…in different places and in different situations.
“This year I think we have only played at home five times.”For our group there has been lots of different stuff for us to face. “I have been proud of the way they have handled whatever has come our way so far.”
Cleary said the successful return of Kurt Capewell – who scored a 36th minute try – from a 12-week knee injury would only bolster their depth ahead of the finals.
“It is going to give us some options and it will push performance for us to determine what is our best side before the finals,” he said.