Panthers v Raiders Preview
The purr needs to turn to a roar and the cogs need some greasing, otherwise both of these teams will be spending September on holidays.
Both the Panthers and the Green Machine Raiders come into the last eight games of the year in a position to do something great – or to do something far from great.
Sure, the 12th-placed Raiders have a much tougher ask as they are already two wins behind the eighth-placed Panthers as the home stretch begins but the potential is there to go on a winning run and supplant their weekend opponents if they are up to the challenge.
The side may have fallen against the Knights last week but they follow this clash with a home double and three wins on the trot would certainly put some heat on the teams above them.
The Panthers will not be given a saloon passage into the finals and as it stands they are holding onto the top eight by the barest of margins differentia-wise.
They must stay inside the finals zone with a win here as they have much tougher propositions to come, including away games in Townsville, Brisbane and Newcastle as well as a date with the top-ranked Dragons.
The home side will be sweating on the safe return of Origin duo Michael Jennings and Trent Waterhouse, with both named as changes to the side beaten by South Sydney last weekend.
Jennings’ return moves Geoff Daniela to the bench while Joseph Paulo moves there for Waterhouse to return to the second row.
The Panthers also welcome back goal-kicking winger Michael Gordon with Ben McFadgean missing out, while the props rotation is set to continue as Frank Puletua and Matthew Bell are slated to start for Tim Grant and Adam Woolnough.
The Raiders will start the match with Josh Dugan out and Phil Graham moving from wing to fullback. Adrian Purtell returns as the new winger.
They will be hoping to have Origin stars Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and David Shillington back from Origin which sees Joe Picker move back to the bench. Glen Turner has also been added to an extended squad.
Watch out Panthers: Canberra are the competition’s cleanskins when it comes to penalties. They have conceded 28 fewer penalties than the Panthers so far this season. The Panthers are ranked 11th in penalties conceded and if they slip up discipline-wise the Raiders will take the invitation to field position with open arms and take charge of the match.
It is imperative the home side keeps its discipline in check and Matt Elliott will no doubt be addressing this in the lead-up to the game.
Watch out Raiders: New Penrith winger Junior Tia Kilifi has shown a bit of spark in his first two matches… well, he has certainly shown a willingness to get involved. He has averaged 143 metres gained and has a line break and a try to his name and could be another exciting outside back to keep an eye on out Penrith way.
This game also sees Michael Gordon return to the wing. Gordon is a competent finisher and a clinical goal-kicker who could prove the difference in these crucial final few months.
Where it will be won: Pure desire. Both sides have everything to play for here and it might sound trivial but whoever wants it more will win this match. Both teams have yet to show a clinical 80-minute performance this season. They have both shown great patches in some games but invariably there is a period where they lapse just a little bit and the opposition takes control. It might not take a full 80-minute effort to win this match but it will take very close to it.
Otherwise we are going to have a see-sawing, defenceless battle that will come down to luck and the bounce of the ball.
Earlier this season the Panthers prevailed in a close match in Canberra, where building pressure was almost non-existent. The game was face paced but full of errors and in the end the Panthers had the luck. This time the side that builds the pressure will no doubt get the result.
The history: Played 54; Panthers 26, Raiders 27, drawn 1. The Panthers have an opportunity to square the all-time ledger against the Raiders here, although the Green Machine have won six of the past eight between the clubs. At CUA Stadium the Panthers have won 13 of 23. However, the Raiders won the past two at the venue, meaning the last Penrith win at home over Canberra came back in 2006. Earlier this season Penrith prevailed 18-10 in Canberra.
Conclusion: Both teams’ chances may hinge on their Origin players, so hold off tipping this game as long as you can. The home-side Panthers should be able to get the cash if they turn up switched on, but it is no gimme.
The Raiders still struggle a little away from home and will be gutted they didn’t get a result against a weakened Knights last week. But they have it in them to keep their season alive.
Lean towards the Panthers but if Jennings and Waterhouse don’t back up, consider the Raiders.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Peter Kirby; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.