Panthers v Roosters Preview

Panthers v Roosters
CUA Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

A classic encounter between the east and west of Sydney, with CUA Stadium set to showcase yet another chapter in the Panthers-Roosters rivalry.
 
The 2003 grand finalists always stir memories for their fans, and Sunday afternoon’s clash should be no different.

Worryingly for their fans, Penrith have shown to be similar to the Panthers of old, their inconsistency proving old habits die hard. Their 34-30 comeback against the Knights last week was just as the score suggested – showing an ability to score points but with no application in defence. Put it all together and you have a team that rides too many highs and lows throughout a game, unable to put together a good 80-minute effort.

The Roosters, on the other hand, are a shadow of their woeful 2009 selves and have been far and away the surprise packets of 2010. Their 25-6 dismantling of the Broncos last week showed a side reinvigorated by a host of changes in the off-season – none more so than the introduction of coach Brian Smith, a noted disciplinarian whose authority has produced instant results, echoed by the form of fullback Todd Carney, and the reformation of Nate Myles.

In the end it shapes as another interesting encounter for two old rivals, especially given their good starts on the NRL ladder.

For the Panthers, Trent Waterhouse (quad), Gavin Cooper (virus), Daine Laurie (toe), Wade Graham (shoulder) and Travis Burns (knee) are all one week from returning, although Waterhouse could be a late inclusion to the squad for this clash.

For the tri-colours, Tom Symonds (knee) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (shoulder) are a week or two away, while Anthony Cherrington is gone for the season.

Watch out Panthers: The Roosters are certainly enjoying the benefits of having three star playmakers on field at the same time. Their direct play has seen the tri-colours shoot to the top of the line-breaks department (30). They also rank tops for tackle busts and offloads.

The main contributor has been Todd Carney, whose move to fullback has been a revelation. He’s recorded 26 tackle-breaks (2nd in the NRL), eight offloads (5th most) and four line-breaks (equal 5th). The Roosters could have a field day out on the edges where defensive ‘turnstiles’ Adrian Purtell (19 missed tackles), Michael Jennings (16) and Luke Lewis (18) lie. They all rank in the top 12 for most misses.

Watch out Roosters: While Jennings, Lewis and Frank Pritchard are the strike weapons for the Panthers, all the playmaking revolves around halfback Luke Walsh. He ranks alongside Johnathan Thurston as equal leader for try assists (six) and is second only to Jamie Soward in kicks (53).

The Panthers also rank best in grubbers, an attacking option the Roosters haven’t been too great at dealing with so far this year (69 per cent defused). With game-breakers around him, Walsh has enough options to get one over NSW Origin hopeful Mitchell Pearce.

Where it will be won: Penrith’s inability to put together an 80-minute performance is the simple statistic that stands between them and an upset over one of the biggest improvers in 2010.

In three of their games so far, the Panthers have concentrated for just 40 minutes of football – a trend that can’t be allowed to continue against the Roosters or they’ll be put to the sword.
   
The history: Played 74: Sydney Roosters 46, Penrith 27, drawn 1. Who can forget Michael Jennings’ unbelievable 109-metre try back in Round 11 last year? Penrith fans can draw on great memories of the last clash between the east and west – their 48-6 trouncing of the tri-colours back in May was Penrith’s biggest ever win over their rivals in 74 matches.

And an omen: The last time the Panthers battled their cross-town rivals in a Round 5 clash, Penrith won… and went on to win the 2003 grand final.

Conclusion: On current form, it’s hard to see the Roosters letting this one slip by, in what will hopefully be a sunny afternoon at the foot of the mountains. The Panthers have been too inconsistent of late to be of any threat to a side high on confidence.

Nate Myles, Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney have proven to be one of the most threatening trios in the competition and should be too much for a defence that can go missing in large patches. Roosters by 13.
 
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Bernard Sutton; Sideline officials – Paul Holland and Jeff Younis; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.

Televised:  Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm.