We know all about the freezing temperatures in the nation’s capital, but there’s one Canberra resident whose temperature might have reached boiling point last week: David Furner.
The Raiders’ coach was furious after his team’s 36-12 loss to the Storm – labelling the performance “probably our worst game this season and definitely the worst second half” – as their 2010 campaign went from life support to almost lifeless with just over a month of the year to play.
With that in mind, it’s little wonder the Raiders’ legend has rolled the dice and rushed back big names Alan Tongue and Josh Dugan – as well as rising star Shaun Fensom – for this week’s must-win clash against the Panthers.
Currently sitting in 12th spot and four points adrift of the top eight, a loss in the “comfort” of their cold home will just about end what would be another season of lost opportunities.
In stark contrast, the mountain men have only just found their heartbeat themselves, snatching a much-needed, last-gasp 24-16 victory over the lowly Cowboys last Friday.
Penrith’s premiership credentials had taken a serious battering leading up to the game, with Matt Elliott’s men having lost their previous three matches. But after keeping their second spot (at least for a week), and the Dragons conceding defeat to the Broncos last Sunday, they’re now back in contention – along with the Roosters and Tigers – to take out the minor premiership. (Thus, it should be pointed out that the Panthers have won the competition each time they’ve finished the regular season on top of the ladder, in 1991 and ’03.
Matthew Bell gets another start in the run-on team this week, while veteran prop Frank Puletua and young Sandor Earl have been an added to form an extended bench.
Penrith winger Brad Tighe celebrates his 100th game.
Watch out Raiders: The longer the game goes, the shorter Penrith’s odds will get, because the majority of the 25 points they score each match (equal 1st in the NRL), have been scored in the final quarter of the contest.
In the game’s decisive final 20 minutes, the Panthers score at an average of 7.5 points per match – only the Wests Tigers (7.6 per game) are better finishers.
This doesn’t bode well for the Raiders, who concede the majority of their 22 points per game in the game’s final stretch.
On average, more than seven points are being scored in the final 20 minutes by Canberra’s opposition every week.
Watch out Panthers: He copped a lot of criticism for a lacklustre display in Origin II, but in arguably the league’s youngest and most exciting backline, Joel Monaghan has been a shining light. Sure, Dugan might be the superstar, but this rangy redhead has averaged almost 130 metres a game. Not impressed? Try his 45 tackle-breaks, which may not sound like a lot… but try doing it in just 10 games. Penrith have looked vulnerable on the fringes all year and can expect a mountain of attack their way in the form of the lanky, pale-skinned Monaghan.
Where it will be won: If veterans Terry Campese and Luke Lewis are the cogs that make their teams function, then attacking stars Josh Dugan and Lachlan Coote add that little bit of polish.
It’s the first match-up between the pair since their entertaining bout in the City-Country Origin fixture, where Dugan marginally outshone his counterpart and was then named as 18th man for NSW in the Origin series this year.
But Coote’s heroics in 2010 can’t be overlooked. The pint-sized dynamo is just as confident in his ability and has arguably been Penrith’s most potent weapon in attack this year (that says a lot with a man named Michael Jennings in the team).
Every leaguie loves a good battle, and this week’s contest between these two could possibly determine the fate of the Raiders’ 2010 season.
The history: Played 56; Penrith 28, Canberra 27, drawn 1. Penrith might have tasted victory in their past three matches against the Green Machine, but the Raiders have won four of the past five clashes between the two sides in Canberra, including their 74-12 shellacking of the mountain men in 2008 – Penrith’s second heaviest defeat in the history of the club.
A win tonight would square the overall ledger between the ’90s rivals at 56 apiece.
Conclusion: Furner has had no option but to throw all his chips in, and hasten in some heavy cavalry. The advantage for the Raiders is that they match up well with the Panthers. They have a classy fullback, and Origin representatives in the five-eighth spot and in the front row.
Look for a good start to the game from the home team, but we reckon the visitors might have too much experience against Elliott’s old team.
And having been out of the finals for five years, Penrith will be all too aware of the importance of getting into finals form. Perhaps the extra two days of preparation the Panthers will have had could be the deciding factor.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Phil Haines; Sideline officials – Ricky McFarlane & David Abood; Video referee – Paul Simpkins
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.