Knights v Panthers Preview

Knights v Panthers
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Monday, 4pm

The last time former Knight Luke Walsh and his penny Panthers trekked to Steel City, it was the last match of 2009 and finals glory was on the line. The result? A 35-0 shutout, and Penrith were forced to dwell on yet another year of missed opportunities, while the Knights went on to play September footy.

There are at least 20 players from that match involved this weekend and although they’ll deny it, the Panthers will be out for redemption as much as the two points.
 
Both teams have somewhat flamed out in the past fortnight, after opening their season with comprehensive victories. Newcastle’s first-up win over the Bulldogs showed they were a side intent on not being tossed aside after a couple of drug controversies in the off-season. But their subsequent losses to the Storm and, in particular Manly, showed they’ve got a long way to go yet.

Captain Kurt Gidley (knee) is still a couple of weeks away, while NSW Origin winger James McManus (foot) will be missing for two months.

Similarly, Penrith looked menacing in their win over Canberra in Round 1, but have since appeared flimsy in consecutive losses to the Cowboys and Storm. Without their second-row powerhouses in Trent Waterhouse and Frank Pritchard, it appears the Panthers are devoid of any real strike power.

Waterhouse (quad), Pritchard (shoulder) and Wade Graham (shoulder) are due to return next week, while fans have yet to see dynamic forward Daine Laurie (finger), who is still a few weeks away. Travis Burns (knee), is out until Round 16.

Watch out Knights: Superstar centre Michael Jennings appears to have gone MIA in 2010 –  but the signs are there that good form is just around the corner.

He’s on zero tries and line-breaks so far – but he does lead his team in tackle busts and offloads.  It proves that although sides are gunning for the speedster, he’s still creating plenty of chances for those outside him.

Nearly half of Penrith’s 11 tries so far this year have come from beyond the 20-metre line, so the Knights’ defence will have to be on their game from the get-go.  

Watch out Panthers: An area of concern for Matt Elliott should be Penrith’s inability to defuse bombs. So far this year, the Panthers have only been able to handle three of 10 kicks spiralled into the air. Cross-field bombs are the biggest problems, defusing just one of five in 2010.

And it’s not just the kicks that are the problem. The Knights have tallied 27 good chases so far this year – the most of any team in the NRL.

Where it will be won: While both sides have proven to be solid in the middle of the park, it’s their fragile edges that may decide the outcome of this match.

Jennings and centre partner Adrian Purtell have a combined 26 missed tackles – the worst of any centre pairing in the NRL. Similarly, Newcastle’s halves combination of Jarrod Mullen and Scott Dureau have amassed 19 missed tackles between them.

With the attacking prowess of both teams, especially on the edges, this game could be a try-fest.

The History: Played 31; Newcastle 17, Penrith 11, Drawn 3. Newcastle have won five of their past six clashes against the Panthers.

This bout is the first of two games the teams play in 2010. The last time Newcastle and Penrith met each other twice in the one season was in 2003, the year the Panthers won the competition.   
 
Conclusion: It’s difficult to predict who could win this one, with both teams starting the year in similar, ordinary fashion. They’ve each won one game, are missing some major star power, and have also split the 14 games played at EnergyAustralia Stadium.

It all points to a close one, which means Jarrod Mullen’s ability to put on a winning play could prove to be the difference. Knights by 2.  

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Bernard Sutton; Sideline officials – Steve Carrall & David Munro; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.

Televised:  Fox Sports – Live 4pm.