Saturday, 5:30pm (AEST)
There’ll be scratches and growls at the foot of the mountains on Saturday night as two of the most exciting teams in the competition meet in what shapes as one of the blockbuster games of the Anzac weekend week.
The ‘penny’ Panthers are prowling pretty in second place on the NRL ladder, complete with the highest attacking record (166 points), with their 40-12 thrashing of the Warriors in New Zealand last week one of the most dominant of the round and their best of the year.
Matt Elliott’s men are at full strength, with plenty of confidence – particularly their halfback Luke Walsh, whose 12 try assists (1st in the NRL) makes him one of the most dangerous plotters in the competition.
The Wests Tigers, on the other hand, have been destructive early in the season – but injuries and a last-start 24-4 loss to the Bulldogs has seen their claws trimmed a little.
The black-and-golds were brave for most of the match against the ’Dogs, particularly in the first half when they valiantly defended more attacking raids than from a hungry Jarrad Hickey at a newly stocked fridge. But it was all to no avail, as the early onslaughts eventually took their toll.
Still, the trio of Lote Tuqiri (six tries and 27 tackle-breaks), Benji Marshall (five tries, seven try assists and 29 tackle-breaks) and Robbie Farah make even The Three Musketeers look impotent. Together, particularly the Marshall-Tuqiri combination, they form one of the most dangerous trios in the league.
But to get one over the black cats, the Tigers will have to overcome a growing medical ward. Farah (elbow) and prop Keith Galloway (shoulder) will be given until kick-off to prove their fitness, while fans have still been unable to locate the whereabouts of Taniela Tuiaki (ankle). Robert Lui (ankle), Todd Payten (calf) and Jason Cayless (knee) round out their injury toll, which doesn’t even include the season-ending injury of rising star Tim Moltzen.
In contrast, the Panthers are bulging like Bill Gates’ wallet, having to omit gun five-eighth Wade Graham from their line-up.
Watch out Panthers: What do you get when you pit a team averaging the most metres in the competition (Tigers – 1427 metres a game) against a team with one of the worst marker defences (Penrith – 108 tackles at marker) in the competition? Farah will have a field day if Penrith don’t aim up in and around the ruck, and then they need to make sure they don’t get sucked in for the biggest Tiger (Tuqiri – 161 metres a game) to be unlocked out wide.
Watch out Tigers: Rookie halfback Blake Lazarus was thrown into a den of ’Dogs last weekend, and wasn’t it an ugly sight to see? The nephew of the great Glenn made three errors and had just a 73 per cent tackling efficiency defending out on the wing before being switched to fullback… and then the bench. There’s nowhere to hide on any football field, let alone CUA Stadium, where Blake can expect to be sucked into a Black Hole. The fleet-footed Michael Jennings and devastating Frank Pritchard will be just itching to take him there.
Where it will be won: The annual battle of the cats shapes as one of the most free-flowing attacking feasts of football you will see this year. Whoever defends the most (highly unlikely) or who scores the most points (more than likely) will win the game.
The History: Played 17; Penrith 13, Wests Tigers 4. The Panthers seem to be the Tigers’ bogey side, winning their past four clashes, and six of their past eight. This includes a sweep of the Tigers last year, where they took out the home-and-away clashes convincingly: 26-10 at Leichhardt Oval and 42-22 at CUA Stadium.
Conclusion: The fact that Penrith are at home and they’re in a better state health-wise makes you lean towards the home team, but beware the eye of the Tiger – or in this case, the eyes of Benji Marshall, who can almost single-handedly steal a game from anyone. We’ll tip the Panthers by 8 in a high-scoring affair.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Sideline officials – Steve Carrall & Ricky McFarlane; Video Referee – Steve Clark.
Televised: Live – Fox Sports, 5:30pm (AEST)