Panthers v Bulldogs Preview

Panthers v Bulldogs
CUA Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

PENRITH kick-start their home season with the tough assignment of taking on the resurgent Bulldogs, who look anything but the wooden-spoon holders.

Having gone down 18-10 in a tough battle in the wet at Cronulla last weekend the Panthers are still searching for their first win and while the Bulldogs were red hot in round one they’ll still fancy their chances at home.

The Bulldogs haven’t beaten the Panthers since 2006 so the home side has a slight mental edge; however it must be said the 2009 Bulldogs outfit is so different from previous seasons they might not carry any baggage at all.

With the pressure set to mount with every loss Penrith coach Matt Elliott has named the same side that fell to Cronulla but has added Frank Pritchard and Wade Graham to make a six-man bench.

Pritchard will just have to pass a fitness test on his injured heel to take a place in the side, while Graham’s inclusion would make for interesting commentary considering the youngster has reportedly been seeking a release to play elsewhere.

As expected, Bulldogs’ coach Kevin Moore has named an identical 17 to the squad who destroyed Manly 34-12.

Footnote: Former Broncos back-rower Greg Eastwood is a late signing for the Bulldogs on a three-year contract. When he takes the field, though, is anyone’s guess – but he won’t be wrapped in cotton wool for too long.

Watch out Panthers: There has been plenty written about wonder kid Jamal Idris this week – and rightfully so after his performance against Manly. But don’t forget about the other young centre in the blue and white.

Josh Morris quietly notched up a try assist and a try of his own against the Sea Eagles and looks likely to be a real threat for not just the Panthers, but all NRL oppositions this year. Morris still has the odd error in him but his raw pace and skill makes him a real danger man.

Watch out Bulldogs: While the Penrith side’s attack was pretty inept at times against the Sharks, they did show willingness in defence, something that has been missing in recent years. With the rain pelting down, the Panthers showed some real mongrel and pulled out 38 dominant tackles, by far the most of the opening round of football.

The Bulldogs only managed eight to be one of the worst performers in the statistic – although it could be argued they didn’t need to be as aggressive as they were pummelling the Sea Eagles anyway. Regardless, the ’Dogs need to expect some heavy hits this weekend.

Where it will be won: Attacking composure and vision. The Bulldogs have the almighty edge here if last weekend is anything to go by.

Penrith spent plenty of time in attack against the Sharks but rarely troubled the Cronulla defence as they lacked vision to set up any real threats. The Panthers constantly kicked to the in-goals to get repeat sets and while that’s good, you still need to do something with all the extra possession.

The Bulldogs on the other hand looked like a well-drilled unit full of confidence. They attacked from inside their own half, attacked with different angled running and passing and also had a varied kicking game. It is here the game will be won, so the Panthers need a quick fix or they will struggle.

The history: Played 76; Panthers 29, Bulldogs 44, drawn 3. The Bulldogs have the overall wood on the Panthers but in recent times that is far from the case. The Panthers have won six of the past seven matches including the last four in a row and the last time the teams met it was a record 52-16 win to Penrith. At CUA Stadium the Bulldogs hold a 20-16-1 advantage over Penrith but they haven’t won at the venue since 2006.

Conclusion: The Bulldogs look a well-drilled outfit in 2009 with solid go-forward from the likes of Ben Hannant, great direction from Brett Kimmorley and Michael Ennis and attacking brilliance from Idris, Morris and Luke Patten.

The Panthers on the other hand looked clueless in attack against the Sharks, making it very difficult to tip them, even on home turf. They are certainly capable of winning this game, especially if the ’Dogs fall too hard for believing their own press, but unless you are looking for an upset, stick with the round one winners.

Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Peter Kirby & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.