Thank goodness for Luke Patten – because if wasn’t for the big farewell of ‘The General’, this Monday night’s clash with the Panthers would have been among the two easiest to pick from the round.
Instead, fans will be treated with an emotion-charged ’Dogs squad keen to send their long-time servant out a winner, up against the previously five-losses-in-six-games Panthers, who rocketed back into premiership calculations with a 40-0 shutout of the Rabbitohs last Friday night.
That’s not to say the Bulldogs aren’t in any form. If they can somehow turn last week’s 10-minute cameo into an 80-minute solid performance, then they could be in with a chance. Last year’s joint minor premiers escaped with a 22-20 win in Townsville last week – but everybody’s beating the Cowboys at the moment.
In contrast, Penrith weren’t overly convincing in the second stanza of their 54-18 destruction of South Sydney (they lost the second half 18-14). But then again, they didn’t need to be. The men in black looked disturbingly unstoppable in the first half, as their big pack just rolled through what was supposed to be the best pack in the competition (admittedly, missing the likes of Dave Taylor, Luke Stuart and Ben Lowe).
The Panthers have named the same team as last week, with Gavin Cooper added to an extended bench. Impact forward Daine Laurie was still named on Tuesday despite looking like suffering a bad wrist injury last week.
For the hosts, Jamal Idris continues his footballer-actor-second-rower-centre masquerade after being shifted into the three-quarter line this week, which means impressive youngster Daniel Rauicava has been sent back to The Crest for the NSW Cup clash against Newtown.
Coach Kevin Moore has also elevated old hand Chris Armit over Ben Hannant in the starting side, which means Michael Hodgson becomes Andrew Ryan’s new back-row partner. A season-ending shoulder complaint to tackling machine David Stagg has also given Gary Warburton a reprieve from the NSW Cup.
The ’Dogs have a new-look bench, with Hannant and Blake Green joining Barba and Paea.
It will be intriguing to see how Panthers back-rower Frank Pritchard performs – he signed with the ’Dogs midweek and could deliver a powerhouse performance. It would a) show his Panthers team-mates he’s still very much in the present; and b) show his 2011 team-mates what they can expect.
Watch out Bulldogs: The day might belong to The General, but it’s his counterpart that could steal the show. Penrith fullback Michael Gordon was Big League’s Player of the Week for Round 24, and there were plenty of reasons why. Not only did his personal tally of 30 points break Ryan Girdler’s club record of most points in a match, but it also broke Girds’ record for most points in a season (230… and counting).
The Bulldogs certainly are aware of ‘Flash’ Gordon’s pointscoring feats. The winger-cum-fullback has scored 84 points in just seven games against the Doggies (for five wins), including a three-try, 22-point haul against them back in Round 11.
And he’s not just scoring points either. In his past three games at fullback, the NSW representative has averaged 217 metres and 11 tackle busts a game, making him probably the biggest danger on Monday night.
Watch out Panthers: Everyone in rugby league loves clichés, but the saying ‘the bigger they are, the harder they’ll fall’ makes Penrith’s big pack an easy target every week. Their in-form forwards made a big statement against a Sam Burgess-led pack last week, but face some danger from a side that’s made 105 line-breaks this year, good for fifth in the competition.
And it’s on the fringes that would be of most concern. Of the 105 line-breaks, 17 have come from former NSW centre Josh Morris, whilst super-sup Ben Barba has 11. While it may be obvious to say that’s where Penrith will need to focus, they would also do well to have done their homework on the line-break assists provided by Kimmorley (9), Idris (8), and the General himself, Luke Patten (7).
Where it will be won: This game will be decided in the first 20 minutes. If the Bulldogs head into the main break with a sniff, then they can rely on the emotion of the day to bring them home.
But if the Panthers get off to as big start, they can really pile on the points and show little mercy – as they displayed last week.
The history: Played 79; Canterbury Bankstown 46, Penrith 30, drawn 3. The mountain men certainly have enjoyed playing the ’Berries in recent times, winning five of their past seven games, including their past three at ANZ Stadium.
In fact, in games played between the two clubs at the mecca of rugby league, Penrith have recorded a 5-2 record, with one draw.
As mentioned earlier, the Panthers defeated the Bulldogs 31-16 at CUA Stadium back in Round 11.
Conclusion: We here at NRL.com really admire how great a servant Patten has been – but given the gaping wound the Panthers left on South Sydney’s season last week, we’ll stick with the Panthers in a landslide victory.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline officials – Gavin Morris & Ricky McFarlane; Video referee – Paul Simpkins
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.