Panthers v Bulldogs Preview

Panthers v Bulldogs
CUA Stadium
Monday 7pm

The high-flying Panthers face a test of depth and character when they take on a weakened Bulldogs outfit in Monday night action.

With both sides supplying three stars each to Origin duty, the pressure is on the back-up players and those experienced heads left behind to get the job done.

The Panthers have three forwards away, arguably a situation easier to cover than missing your halfback, hooker and strike centre – as the Bulldogs do.

Having moved into second spot on the ladder the Penrith boys, somewhat under the radar, must now contend with expectation.

A win here solidifies a top-two spot, while a loss could have them drop back out of the top four.

Petero Civoniceva is out, with Matthew Bell the new starting prop. Trent Waterhouse's second row spot goes to the returning Frank Pritchard, and Luke Lewis gives up the no.13 jersey to Nathan Smith while he dons sky blue.

Joseph Paulo, Wade Graham and Frank Puletua have all been added to the bench.

Meanwhile, it’s getting closer to crunch time for the Bulldogs. They would have liked a bigger bank of competition points by now, but they are sitting 10th going into the Origin series and need to jag some wins to stay with the finals pack.

An upset win here would potentially rocket them inside the finals zone in one hit.

Jamal Idris has his Origin debut to ponder, meaning Shane Neumann comes in at centre while Ben Barba will start at halfback for Brett Kimmorley.

Michael Ennis' hooking duties fall to Dene Halatau, with Jake Foster and Joel Romelo, a former Panther, the new bench faces.

Watch out Panthers:
Ben Barba is off the leash! With the Bulldogs’ main attacking players off on Origin duty, Barba gets his chance to shine as the main man.

Barba has shown tremendous potential off the bench but now gets his shot to run the team from halfback. Already this season in limited minutes he has made five line-breaks, four line-break assists, three try assists and seven tries.

Barba loves to take the line on but he is just as adept at creating for others. If he can handle the occasion mentally, the Penrith side could be in for a harder afternoon then they were originally expecting.

Watch out Bulldogs: If you haven't heard by now that the Panthers are the kicking kings then you need to come out from beneath the rock you've been living under.

While the Bulldogs are the third best in the NRL at scoring tries from kicks (with 11 for the year), the side is well behind the Panthers – who have 21 tries from kicks already. The Dogs haven't been brilliant at defending kicks either, with eight tries conceded to the boot. Luke Walsh has a mammoth 17 try assists from kicks: four from grubbers, one from a banana kick, one from a mid-field kick, four from cross-field kicks and seven from bombs – showing he can mix it up every which way. His major partner in crime is fullback Lachlan Coote, who has seven tries from kicks already this season.

Where it will be won:
Mental application. Weeks like this one are very tough for NRL sides: Three key players are missing… you have to wait around until Monday night to play… and just like the fans, the players are looking forward to Origin. This game could be won or lost before a ball is kicked in anger if the sides aren't careful.

Focus at training will be important but during the game it becomes even more crucial. The coaches will have tweaked attacking plans to suit the new players, and each man must do his job to keep the machine cogs turning.

Desire can be measured in many ways, but we'll get a notion of each team's application in the early stages, when the first loose ball presents itself. The side prepared to dive on the scraps ahead of the other will be on the path to victory.

The history:
Played 78; Panthers 29, Bulldogs 46, drawn 3. The Panthers have won five of the past eight clashes; however, the Bulldogs have won the past two between the clubs, both last season.

At CUA Stadium, the Bulldogs have the edge with 21 wins compared to the Panthers’ 16. One match has been drawn at the venue.

Conclusion: Penrith should be able to overcome their Origin losses much easier than the Bulldogs, but if they come into the match with even a ounce of complacency, they could very well get mauled.

Ben Barba is the type of player who could score three tries in the blink of an eye. And with the likes of Andrew Ryan and David Stagg still in the Dogs’ pack, Canterbury can definitely post an upset result.
   
Match Officials: Referees: Ben Cummins & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: Chris James & Luke Potter; Video Ref: Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.