Panthers v Rabbitohs
Neither of these sides were anywhere near as impressive in their last start as they were in their commanding Round 1 victories, and both will be desperate to reverse that in this crucial Sunday afternoon clash.
The difference of course is that South Sydney were still good enough to come away with a win in Round 2 against a physical Sharks outfit that nonetheless couldn’t match the emotion that brought them a gutsy first-up win following well-publicised off-field issues. They looked like running away with it against the Sharks as they raced to a 12-nil lead after 15 minutes.
Even going into halftime up 14-6 the result seemed inevitable but they lost their mojo in the second 40 and in the end were lucky to hold out their opposition.
The Panthers, on the other hand, crashed and burned against a resurgent, Benji Marshall-inspired Tigers outfit. It’s a disappointment for coach Ivan Cleary to swallow after their surprise first-up win over Canberra – although given the cracks that have since appeared in the Green Machine, it’s hard to know how much to read into that Round 1 win.
Against the Tigers, the Panthers were given early hope when Sika Manu barrelled over after five minutes but the Tigers scored the next three as Marshall and co. took control. Even when winger David Simmons scored midway through the second stanza the Tigers looked untroubled and were able to put the match beyond doubt as they went over twice more before Manu bagged a consolation double near fulltime.
Of course, the early loss of five-eighth Lachlan Coote in that match to a now-confirmed season-ending pectoral tear was a factor... and won’t make this week’s task any easier.
The Panthers will at least have home ground advantage, and if Western Sydney puts on temperatures anything like those that have impacted the first two Sunday afternoons of footy it could be an uncomfortable afternoon for both clubs.
The Bunnies welcome back damaging prop Sam Burgess from a one-week ‘holiday’ he incurred following his Round 1 high shot on Roosters half Mitchell Pearce. That pushes Dave Tyrrell back to a seven-man bench that also features the additions of Justin Hunt and Jason Clark.
Meanwhile there is just one major change at the Panthers: given a handful of options to replace Coote, Ivan Cleary has given the nod to former Tiger and Eel Tom Humble, who plays his first game for the club in the 6 jersey. Matt Robinson has been added to a five-man bench in the only other change.
Watch Out Panthers: Last year’s rookie sensation Adam Reynolds shows no signs of slowing down in his second year of top-grade footy. The young No.7 was cooler than a 10-year veteran as he set up two first-half tries against the Sharks with pinpoint kicks and converted both.
He also calmly slotted a penalty kick from close to the sideline on the stroke of halftime that proved the difference as the Bunnies held on for a two-point win. His control and composure will be crucial as the Bunnies look to hold off what will no doubt be a desperate Panthers outfit.
And of course Greg Inglis will look to trouble the opposition at every opportunity; the Souths fullback has scored two tries, set up two others for teammates, cracked opposition defences open on two occasions and is averaging 180 metres a match already. Phew.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Beware the wounded Panther. The loss of Coote could take some of the sting out of the Panthers in attack but it means other players will have to step up and one man the Panthers will be hoping can provide that extra spark is former Cowboy James Segeyaro.
Segeyaro has been simply electric in his first two games at his new club. In addition to stealing a try from dummy-half in Round 1 he has a club-high 59 tackles so far (with just one miss) and a club-high six offloads. He also has – astonishingly for someone who has spent most of their time at dummy-half – averaged 96 running metres per game, with the aid of one line-break.
He’s starting from the bench again but when he comes on after around 20 minutes the Souths markers better be paying attention.
Plays To Watch: Josh Mansour roaming infield to take as many hit-ups as possible (averaging 152 metres a game already); Nathan Merritt (three tries to date) supporting every attacking play like a second fullback; Sika Manu (also three tries) to eye off a few more ‘meat pies’ with his bustling runs close to the line; ‘Big’ Sam and ‘Baby’ George Burgess tag-teaming as they attempt to smash their way through or over the Penrith line.
Key Match-Up: Issac Luke v James Segeyaro. This match features two of the sneakiest dummy-halves in the game in Luke and Segeyaro. Segayaro’s feats so far have been outlined above but Luke is a Kiwi international and one of the best there is at darting past at the first hint of a lazy marker. Segeyaro’s minutes could be limited by captain Kevin Kingston who is the first choice hooker, while Luke has had to contend with challenges from youngster Nathan Peats who excelled in his time at hooker last season.
Luke has the most runs per game (12) of any hooker so far this year, and easily the most tackle-breaks (10). A well-timed dart from dummy-half can really get defenders running backwards and these two men will be aiming for just that at every opportunity.
Where It Will Be Won: Whichever team can remember how to tackle first will go a long way to taking this one out, with the defence of each side currently leakier than a post-iceberg Titanic.
At this early stage of the season only the Tigers have missed more tackles than Penrith (57 misses in two games) and South Sydney (59 misses) and you can guarantee both squads will have enjoyed plenty of tackling drills during the week.
Plenty of these misses are coming from the halves and at the back but worryingly some members of the respective packs aren’t up to scratch so far. For the Panthers, Lewis Brown and Nathan Smith (five misses each) aren’t defending like starting back-rowers should while for the Bunnies, Luke (seven misses) and Te’o (six) clearly have some work to do.
The History: Played 73; Rabbitohs 40, Panthers 32, drawn 1. It’s pretty even at Centrebet Stadium where Penrith hold a slim 18-17 lead (plus one draw). The last 10 match-ups have been split five apiece.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Dan Eastwood; Video Referees – Paul Mellor & Justin Morgan.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
The Way We See It: The Rabbitohs have class across the board and have been the more impressive side so far. Meanwhile the Panthers have lost a key player and came back to earth with a thud last week following a first-up win. Bunnies by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats