Wests Tigers v Panthers Preview

Wests Tigers v Panthers
Campbelltown Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

When you take out the rubbish this weekend, don’t forget to pick up the kitty litter on the way out. In the latest instalment of the “Battle of the Cats” this Sunday, one team will have found their much-needed growl after the 80 minutes – not to mention cementing their spot in top four – while the other… well, someone’s going to have clean that mess up!

Don’t be fooled by their current standings. Both teams might share second spot on the ladder, but fans from either side must feel like their side is scrapping for bottom eight spoils, rather than a home semi-final.

Despite an impressive opening half in the nation’s capital last Monday, the Panthers must’ve left the stadium early mentally – because they somehow gave up a 26-12 lead and were shut out in the second stanza. The 30-26 disappointment was their fourth loss in five games and it’s safe to say that the State of Origin break was the worst thing to happen for Penrith’s season.

But if you think handing over at 14-point head start was bad, what about the Tigers, who were leading by 18 with just 15 minutes to go against the Rabbitohs last week? And it wasn’t the “We’ve-got-the-best-pack-in-the-NRL” Rabbitohs, but the “We-need-Jaiman-Lowe-and-Craig-Stapleton” Bunnies who eventually took the game to golden point and won 34-30 through hat-trick hero and rookie Dylan Farrell. The loss embarrassed the Wests Tigers to two losses over their past three games… and their win was a lucky 24-22 nail-biter to Cronulla. (Yep, the Sharks.)

But still, following the catfight on Sunday arvo, one of these teams will somehow still be in contention for the minor premiership – while the other will be left to battle it out for the top eight. The 2010 Telstra Premiership is that close.

Make no mistake: this western Sydney shootout – which will surely include a blockbuster Campbelltown crowd – is going to draw a desperate, win-at-all-costs, do-whatever-it-takes battle from two teams that need to show that they’re serious premiership contenders, and not just kitty litter.

Despite being named, expect Penrith fullback Lachlan Coote (groin) to be missing, meaning Michael Gordon will once again shift to fullback, with Sandor Earl coming onto the wing. The mountain men do get linchpin Luke Walsh back from a minor hamstring injury. Daine Laurie is also a chance to earn a spot on the bench.

For the hosts, Wade McKinnon (hamstring) is likely to regain his number one jumper, while Todd Payten (hamstring) also returns and forces Bryce Gibbs to the bench. Geoff Daniela also gets a spot on the bench, meaning Mark Flanagan misses out.

Watch out Wests Tigers:
Injuries to Lachlan Coote and Luke Walsh might be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers, who were forced to look to a familiar pair of destroyers in Michael Jennings and Frank Pritchard last week.

Between them, the left-hand combination tallied 204 metres, 14 tackle-breaks, and five offloads. Wests’ right-side pairing of Beau Ryan and Blake Ayshford could be in for a torrid night, particularly if the Panthers continue to look for the Jennings-Pritchard combo early in their sets.

Watch out Panthers: When it comes to kicking games, Penrith might be the standouts but, for one week at least, the tables could be turned. And it’s along the ground where the Panthers will have to be prepared to be peppered, because the Tigers have registered the most grubbers in the NRL this year (101).

Of the 373 kicks the side has taken in 2010, Robbie Farah (139) and Benji Marshall (150) have taken most of them. The Tigers also have a league-high 17 tries scored from their own half of the field.

Where it will be won: Kicking games. Both sides might know how to put foot to ball when they’re on the attack, but general play kicking is the crucial factor in this game. Everyone knows about the attacking prowess of both teams, so the ability to ensure they get into the best field position they can could be the difference. The Panthers are ranked second to the Eels in good chases (118), while the Tigers rank third with (115).

But where the vital component lies is in poor chases, where the Tigers are among the worst (11), whereas the Panthers continue to work hard after the kick, with just one poor chase.

The history: Played 18; Penrith 14, Wests Tigers 4. Although Penrith haven’t featured in the finals over the past five years, the mountain men seem to have the wood on their rivals, losing just four games to the joint-venture club.

Furthermore, the Panthers have never lost a game in Campbelltown, and they’ve won the past five clashes between the teams, including a 26-18 victory earlier this year.

Conclusion: Penrith do have history on their side, but the Tigers have the home ground advantage.

Penrith lose their first-choice fullback, but the Tigers have theirs. With both teams coming off last-start losses, we can’t separate these two teams.

Intriguingly, 17 of the Tigers’ matches this season have been decided by 12 points or fewer, and this contest looks to be no different.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gavin Badger; Sideline officials – David Abood & Jeff Younis; Video referee – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.