Panthers v Rabbitohs Preview

Panthers v Rabbitohs
CUA Stadium
Friday, 7:35pm

You know you’re at the business end of the season when you reach for the calculators to see how many points you need to finish where you want to.

Some fans (and coaches!) head to NRL.com to see out all the possibilities on the Ladder Predictor, while others simply just can’t bear to see how close their team is to teetering off the finals equation completely.

Whether you’re a confused Penrith fan wondering whether you’re still a chance for the minor premiership, or who may have just twigged that your team can actually catastrophically bundle out of the top eight altogether… or a die-hard Souths supporter who’ll experience yet another depressing Rabbitohs-less September with a loss on Friday – all are welcome to the fun and games of the pointy end of the NRL season.

While the formula for the Rabbitohs is simple – lose this game and you’re out – the Panthers’ prospects are as confounding as the depths of the plot of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception.

Unlikely though it may be, the Panthers are still a mathematical chance of taking out the J.J. Giltinan shield, but have just as much chance of missing the finals completely – a cataclysmic thought after spending much of the year at second spot.

But more than likely, the Panthers, who have lost four of their past five games including a poor 43-18 return at Campbelltown last Sunday, will finish somewhere in the middle of the eight.

The famous cardinal-and-myrtle, however, face a more dire and straight-forward predicament. Their 18-16 defeat to the nothing-to-play-for Storm last Sunday now has them clinging to ninth spot, two points away from eighth, but just 80 minutes away from organising what would be a miserable Mad Monday.

Troops-wise, Penrith match-winner Lachlan Coote is still being bothered by a groin strain and hasn’t been named in this week’s line-up, which means Sandor (pronounced Shan-door, thanks Rabs) keeps his place on the wing. Interestingly, Brad Tighe and Adrian Purtell swap places in the backline… probably to cover for the 84 missed tackles Purtell has accrued this year (fourth most in the NRL).

For the Rabbitohs, Beau Champion is set to make his return from injury, while Mick Crocker gets a chance to start at lock, which means Dave Tyrrell moves back to the bench. The only other change is that forward Jason Clark gets his place on the pine for Jamie Simpson.

Penrith hooker Kevin Kingston plays his 100th first grade game.

Watch out Panthers: Injuries to Lachlan Coote and Luke Walsh might be blessings 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. The Rabbitohs’ right-side pairing of Beau Champion and Nathan Merritt 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 Rabbitohs: Referees are the hot topic of the week and it should come as no surprise that not only will Souths have to overcome a stinging home side, but they’ll also have to deal with a 4-15 record under the watchful eye of Tony Archer.

No other team has won less game under Archer. Away from home, the Rabbitohs have won just one from eight games adjudicated by the referee – second only to Canberra’s one from 10.

Penrith, on the other hand, enjoy a 52 per cent winning percentage under Archer, a rate that improves at CUA stadium (64 per cent).

Where it will be won: It might be a surprise to some, but these two teams lead the competition in attack, with the Rabbitohs scoring 24.7 points per game and the Panthers not far behind at 24.6.

But while crossing the stripe isn’t a problem for these two teams, we reckon it’s the defence that holds the key. Souths make more line-breaks (5.4 to 3.4) and tackle busts (36.4 to 30.3) than Penrith, but the visitors do concede more missed tackles (37.7 to 35.1) and metres (1354.1 to 1220.4) a match than the home team.

The history: Played 69; South Sydney 38, Penrith 30, drawn 1. The mountain men have won the past six matches between the sides at CUA Stadium to tie the ledger at 16 apiece (with a draw).  

But while the Panthers hold the obvious home ground advantage, their horrible 42-22 effort against the Bunnies in Round 12 could already have a scarring effect on the team.

Conclusion: There is just too much riding on this game for the home side. We’re willing to give them one more chance to halt their hapless form against a John Sutton-and-David-Taylor-less Souths outfit.

Don’t be surprised if this game goes down to golden point. And if it does, look for a try from either fullback to break the deadlock rather than a field goal.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline officials – Russell Turner & Grant Atkins; Video referee – Steve Clark
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7:30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld)