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Panthers v Broncos
Centrebet Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Penrith’s pride goes on the line in front of their brave and patient fans when the Broncos come to town this Friday night. 

The Brisbane winning streak may have come to an end at seven last weekend but Panthers fans shouldn’t be excited about that – the side almost beat a strong Melbourne outfit without their rep stars and now they’ll just be hungry to atone for the loss.

The Broncos now sit in third place but still can lay claim to being one of the teams to beat in this season’s premiership. 
The Panthers are well rested from a bye but lost three straight prior to the breather and look every bit ‘at home’ in 15th, or second last, on the NRL ladder.

Their well-publicised coaching situation will drag on for a while yet as the board looks for a replacement for Matt Elliott – although the latest murmurs seem to support the move for Phil Gould to be instated as Coaching Director, with his charge yet to be determined. 

As much as players and officials say it’s not a distraction, it is a massive distraction… and their 2011 title tilt is basically over as a result. 

If the Panthers lose this match they’ll need to win 12 of 17 to close out the year to earn a chance at the finals – not even their most ardent fan could lay claim to that kind of confidence on current form. 

They head into the clash without centre Michael Jennings, prompting Brad Tighe to shift to centre with Adrian Purtell joining the side on the wing. 

In a massive boost, Luke Lewis returns at lock, replacing Sarafu Fatiaki. Elsewhere, Matthew Bell is out, with his potential replacement from an extended bench that also includes Dayne Weston and Nathan Smith. 

The visitors have a handful of changes from the young side that fell to the Storm. Justin Hodges returns at centre, pushing Dale Copley to the wing and last-week’s impressive tryscorer Dane Gagai out of the side. 

Darren Lockyer, who is poised to make his 150th night-time NRL appearance, comes back in at five-eighth for Ben Hunt. 

Ben Hannant starts at prop with Mitchell Dodds heading back to the bench, and Sam Thaiday returns to the back row, displacing Dane Carlaw from the team. 

Dunamis Lui is the other unlucky man to miss out. 
Watch Out Panthers: Former Panthers’ whiz kid now Broncos mainstay Peter Wallace will be primed for a big performance just to ensure the Blues’ selectors don’t totally discount his claims. The clever halfback has played for New South Wales before and has loved playing against his old club in the past, setting up a perfect lead-in match to stake his claim. 

Since joining the Broncos in 2008 Wallace has won four of five games against his former club – and even in his only loss he was able to score. The highlight of those clashes was the only time he’s returned to Centrebet Stadium, when he piled on two try assists in a comfortable 38-18 victory. So far this season Wallace has nine try assists from as many games. 

Danger Sign: He very rarely runs at the line but perhaps this will be a night he switches it up. With all the focus on Lockyer, Wallace might just have a sneaky go from close range.

Watch Out Broncos: One Panther who has been relatively good in a struggling team is winger David Simmons. Having been in and out of the top grade over the years Simmons is making the most of this chance. He is averaging 121 metres a match, has three line-breaks and leads his club with six tries. He also has 21 tackle-breaks. 

For Simmons the ‘Holy Grail’ now is to limit his mistakes; if he is able to do so he’ll be hard to displace from the Panthers’ backline. 

Danger Sign: Keep an eye on the Panthers’ halves. They’ll be pointing and communicating to Simmons before a set nears its conclusion to let him know the ball is coming. If they are in sync he could add to his try tally.

Plays To Watch: The Panthers will desperately try to reinvigorate their scoring-from-kicks mojo from last year; Trent Waterhouse (29 offloads, three try assist) powering on the edges trying to show he still has what it takes at rep level; Darren Lockyer showing cunning by running on the last tackle; Lockyer switching play to the short side; Lockyer just plain running the show.

Where It Will Be Won: It couldn’t get much simpler – this game is just about basic attack and defence. 

The Broncos are defending brilliantly this season but their attack still hasn’t clicked into fifth gear. It is here the Panthers can exploit the visitors. They need to throw a little caution to the wind and try to score some points… what do they have to lose? They are already rooted down the bottom of the table, the coach is already going to be leaving… it’s time to open the shoulders and play. 

Currently they are averaging just 16.5 points at Centrebet Stadium, their lowest tally since 1993. They need to force the Broncos to score more points. The Broncos are doing OK with an average 20 points scored each week – but can they match the Panthers if it’s a high-scoring shoot-out? Perhaps the Broncos’ defence won’t allow such a match, as it is really good – even with the tough questions asked of it last week they are conceding just 12.1 a game. 

The History: Played 43; Panthers 14, Broncos 28, drawn 1. Yikes – the Panthers have managed just one win and a draw against the Broncos in their past seven matches. And Brisbane also have an advantage in Penrith, with an 11-8-1 ledger. 

Earlier this season the sides met in Brisbane, with the Broncos prevailing 18-10. It was actually one of the Panthers’ best showings of the year.

Conclusion: You just can’t find reasons to back Penrith. The Broncos have been a great side this year and this looks likely to continue into the second third of the season. We are about to hit the Origin period and they’ll be hell bent on going in on a high with victory. 

Perhaps the only hope for the Panthers is if the Broncos’ Origin players take their foot off the gas to conserve their energy… but I wouldn’t stake a cent on that happening. 

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Phil Haines; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Ref – Bernard Sutton. 

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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