Panthers v Wests Tigers CUA Stadium Saturday 5.30pm
PENRITH may have surprised many by grabbing their first win of the year at Brookvale last Monday night but they’ll need to lift again to keep the streak alive against the Wests Tigers.
The win over Manly moved the Panthers into 11th place on the NRL ladder but they face the eighth-placed Wests Tigers who are fresh off an impressive win over the Sydney Roosters.
It’s always difficult backing up from Monday night football – particularly when your opponent has had over a week’s preparation – so the home side could face an uphill battle.
But they certainly looked a little crisper with Wade Graham back in the side and if he can fire against the attacking skills of Benji Marshall and co then the Panthers can certainly get back-to-back wins.
Graham has been selected to start at five-eighth which creates a shift in the Penrith line-up.
Luke Lewis moves from no.6 to lock, Nathan Smith goes from lock to the second row, Matthew Bell moves up from the second row to prop and prop Frank Puletua moves back to the bench.
Penrith coach Matt Elliott has added an extra four players to his bench in Gavin Cooper, Adam Woolnough, Joseph Paulo and Maurice Blair, so just who remains to make the cut is anyone’s guess at this stage.
Tim Sheens has remained faithful to the 17 who came from behind to trounce the Roosters, with Rocky Trimarchi added as an 18th man as cover.
Watch out Panthers: Wests Tigers winger Taniela Tuiaki is the form flank man in the competition, if not one of the form players. He is averaging 11 runs and 105 metres a match, he has broken the line on five occasions and scored five tries to lead the NRL in both categories.
His mammoth size and deceptive speed make him a great target for the Tigers’ attack.
Somehow the Panthers need to get up in his face early and cut down his thinking time, otherwise they’ll be in for a rough night whenever the visitors spread the ball to the left.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Panthers have the ability to dominate field position in this game thanks to eager defence and workman-like attack.
So far this season the Penrith defence has notched up 115 dominant tackles, the most in the NRL, while the Wests Tigers have just 40 to their name to be the least dominant side in the competition. If the Tigers forwards allow themselves to be dominated then their halves will have less time and space to weave their magic.
In attack the Panthers have been averaging 1307 metres along the ground and 542 metres from the boot, which is significantly better than the Wests Tigers’ 1130 metres and 461 metres.
The visitors can be thankful the likes of Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall can attack from anywhere but surely they’d prefer to spend more time attacking their opponents’ red zone. If they let the Panthers dominate it’s only a matter of time before the home side’s attack clicks into gear.
Where it will be won: In attack. Basically the Panthers defence isn’t solid enough to restrict the Wests Tigers’ attacking potential; they need to lift their own point-scoring ability if they are to come out on top.
In the three rounds so far Penrith have scored just seven tries, barely above two a game, while the Wests Tigers have posted 16 tries, or more than five a game.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the home side though. They have managed to make a habit of breaking the line (although still not nearly as often as the Tigers). If they can convert the breaks into points they’ll be on par with the black-white-and-golds.
Responsibility falls heavily on Graham and Jarrod Sammut to make the most of what is likely to be a domination of field position.
The History: Played 15; Panthers 11, Wests Tigers 4. The Panthers seem to enjoy playing against the Wests Tigers. They have a significant lead in head-to-head clashes and have won six of the past eight, including both matches last season. At CUA Stadium the Panthers have won six of eight encounters.
Conclusion: As impressive as it was to go to Brookvale, a ground the Panthers have had limited success at, and win against the reigning champions, Penrith are yet to fully prove themselves in this competition.
They can gain a lot more support with a victory here but they are up against it thanks to a short turnaround. They do however have a nice mental edge over the Wests Tigers, something that cannot be discounted.
If they can get their attack flowing on the back of dominant field position then they can certainly not only win but win convincingly. But that is a big ‘if’. The visiting side will start favourites here but don’t be afraid to take a stab at the Panthers in this battle of the big cats.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm AEDT.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.