A match against the Panthers couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Roosters.
For some reason the Roosters have been feather dusters in recent weeks, losing five of their past six games, but they have a great record against their cross-town rivals – and they need a win now more than ever.
The Panthers have now won three in a row and while they would admit they haven’t been in slashing form, they have learnt how to win games after a few seasons of being better at throwing them away.
If the Panthers are to continue prowling up the ladder (they are now up to seventh), they have to win games like this one… games they are expected to win.
If the Roosters are to get away from a battle for the wooden spoon (they are currently 15th) they need to start playing tougher and more disciplined football – and there is no better time than against their arch enemies from the west.
They have won six of the past eight against Penrith and have been victorious out at CUA for six seasons, giving them plenty of hope here, even without the inspirational Craig Fitzgibbon who has succumbed to injury.
Iosia Soliola is also out of the Roosters side, which can’t take a trick with injuries. Thankfully the two absentees are being replaced by two guys returning after time out themselves: Shane Shackleton comes in for Soliola and Mitchell Aubusson comes in for Fitzgibbon.
For the Panthers, Maurice Blair comes into the centres, with Gavin Cooper going to the second row and Nathan Smith reverting to the bench.
Trent Waterhouse is out of the side, which brings Frank Pritchard into the starting line-up and two extras in Masada Iosefa and Joseph Paulo onto a six-man bench.
Watch out Panthers: The Roosters’ strength is their left side, with 19 of their 27 tries scored this year scored there. They keep pushing the ball left and have been getting some success, so expect this to continue.
Considering the Panthers have conceded 17 of their tries on the left compared to seven on the right, it is a tactic that might just prove very fruitful. It is up to the Penrith defenders to recognise their weakness and react to it. Head-in-the-sand stuff will not be tolerated anymore.
Watch out Roosters: Panthers lock Luke Lewis has no doubt read the press about his suitability for an Origin position. Having not been in a New South Wales jersey since 2004, other than as 18th man on enough occasions to drive him crazy, Lewis knows one more big performance might get him over the line.
Lewis leads the Dally M Medal standings at this stage of the year and only needs to continue his form to be a massive chance. He is tackling himself to a standstill and he has four line-breaks, five line-break assists, three try assists, three tries and 22 broken tackles.
Where it will be won: The defence of both sides will be pivotal. The Roosters have been way too lax in recent times, and last weekend against the Knights showed how they can be easily cracked.
The one thing going for them is the Panthers’ penchant for sometimes ‘falling out’ of games for small periods. If the Roosters can make the most of those times they have a small chance of competing in this game.
They will have to lift their output across the ground, though. The Roosters are averaging just 1184 metres gained a match, to be ranked last in the NRL, compared to the Panthers’ 1302 metres. The visitors will have to lift their intensity, push off the defensive line harder and cut down the Panthers before they get well over the advantage line. No more waiting on their heels and sad missed tackles.
The home side has to stay focussed on their defence for the entire 80 minutes. If they do, and choke the Roosters out of the match, they won’t be beaten. The former New South Wales halves pairing of Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta are struggling to create behind a dominated pack so if the Panthers keep dominating, they’ll win.
Defence from kicks will be important too. The Roosters have conceded 11 tries and the Panthers 12 from the boot, making them among the worst sides in the competition at cleaning up kicks.
The History: Played 73; Panthers 26, Roosters 46, drawn 1. The Roosters have won six of the past eight games between the two clubs and hold a 23-14 advantage at CUA Stadium, despite it being the Panthers’ home ground. The Roosters have actually beaten Penrith in Penrith on the past five occasions; it’s been six seasons since they tasted victory at home against the Chooks.
Conclusion: Tip the Panthers despite the Roosters’ good record here. The confidence is really lacking out Bondi way and without Fitzgibbon the Roosters are without the one guy who will always roll up his sleeves and lead the way.
That is not to say they can’t win – they certainly can – but it is just as likely they will once again fall short, heaping more pressure on Brad Fittler to keep his job.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Delayed 9.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.