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NRL News: Ins and outs from around the grounds

David Furner on the Raiders' line-up

Raiders v Panthers
Canberra Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

The Raiders are no doubt thankful they have a game slated against the Panthers this weekend, as they really need a win and they have had the wood over the men from the foot of the Blue Mountains in recent times.

Penrith coach Matt Elliott is still searching for his first win over his former club and while the Panthers sit in 11th compared to the Raiders in 13th he is no certainty to get it this time around.

The Raiders come into the match off back-to-back losses, both being hard-fought games against the Titans and Bulldogs, but they have won the past four against Penrith – and the Panthers haven’t been able to even buy a win in the nation’s capital for over five years.

Penrith come into the match following an impressive Monday night win over the Gold Coast and have been playing quite well in recent times, even in their losses; but for some reason they have really struggled to get up to play the Raiders.

The home side will be without prop Troy Thompson with Scott Logan returning to the side while Tom Learoyd Lahrs is also out replaced by Joe Picker in the starting side. Nigel Plum comes onto the bench.

The Penrith side is similar to the one that defeated the Titans, with Frank Pritchard selected to start and Nathan Smith back to the bench. Joel Romelo, Geoff Daniela and Adam Woolnough have been added to seven-man bench.

This means Luke Walsh remains the starting halfback, with Jarrod Sammut set to be a ‘super sub’ once more.

Watch out Raiders: The Panthers have been more prolific at breaking the line, with 33 line breaks compared to the Raiders’ 21. As such they pose a threat to the Raiders’ sometimes flimsy defence.

Centre Michael Jennings is the main weapon, with seven line breaks from as many matches, giving him a real chance at a New South Wales jersey.

But Lachlan Coote (four line breaks), Luke Lewis (four), Shane Elford (three) and Trent Waterhouse (three) have also proven quite elusive.

Watch out Panthers: Discipline has been a real feature of the Raiders’ play this year, with the home side conceding just 32 penalties to be ranked best-behaved in the NRL. The Panthers have given up 47 penalties so far and considering the Raiders will have a vocal crowd behind them they’ll need to be on their best behaviour or risk being penalised out of the game.

Penrith will also need to lift their kick accuracy or face being camped in their own end as the Raiders dictate field position. The Panthers are finding space with kicks on only 44.4 per cent of the time to be ranked 15th in the league, while the Raiders are impressive with a 67.7 per cent success rate to be ranked second.

Adding further insult to the Panthers’ kicking game is the fact they are only making 467 metres per game from the boot compared to the Raiders’ 614 metres. If they are not careful Terry Campese will kick them off the park.

Where it will be won: This clash will be about successful second-phase play where the team that continues their offloading in a disciplined fashion will come out on top.

The Raiders have managed 98 offloads so far this year while Penrith have 99, making them two of the best teams in the competition at second phase. The trick with offloads is to make them count, to make them quality passes. As teams retreat back the 10 metres, a well-timed pass can not only gain valuable yards but it can give slick support players a chance to bust a back- pedalling defence.

The likes of Lachlan Coote and Jarrod Sammut are great support players for the Panthers, while the Raiders have the likes of Alan Tongue and Josh Dugan just itching for a good offload.

Petero Civoniceva (12 offloads), Paul Aiton (nine offloads), Gavin Cooper (nine offloads) and Frank Pritchard (nine offloads) are the leading Panthers, although every single Panther who has played this season has at least one to their name.

For the Raiders it’s Bronson Harrison, with 27 offloads, who is the man. If the Panthers can contain him they’ll go a long way to containing the Green Machine.

The History: Played 53; Raiders 27, Panthers 25, drawn 1. The Raiders have been all over Penrith in recent times, winning seven of the past eight including the past four encounters. In 19 games at Canberra Stadium, Penrith have managed only five wins – with their last win at the venue coming in March, 2004!

Conclusion: While they haven’t been playing as well as the Panthers there is a lot to like about the Raiders in this match-up. The history is firmly in their favour and they are due a win at home, having lost two of three in Canberra – something that is far from common.

Also, the Panthers are backing up from Monday night football, something that has proven difficult for most teams this season. But it can be dangerous to go against form when tipping. The Panthers have been pretty good since losing their opening two games, beating Manly, the Wests Tigers and Gold Coast while losing a close battle with Melbourne and falling to a rampant Broncos side. Whichever way you swing has its pros.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Delayed 9.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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