Roosters v Panthers preview

Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers
Allianz Stadium
Sunday 3pm (AEDT)

It’s entirely likely the Roosters will take the field against the Panthers with adrenaline still pulsing through their veins after their miraculous comeback to seize victory in the dying minutes of their season opener with the Rabbitohs last Monday.

Dead and partially buried, trailing 20-12 with 160 seconds left on the clock, the Roosters clawed their way out of their shallow grave to inflict a gut-wrenching defeat.

Gut-wrenching it may have been to South Sydney, but to the youngest team in the competition it may well turn out to be the catalyst to a season to remember. Brian Smith’s charges showed poise and purpose with the ball in hand, completing their sets at an impressive 80 per cent and, despite missing the likes of Braith Anasta, Tautau Moga and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, they equalled if not shaded their opponents in attack.

Meanwhile the Panthers are dealing with the disappointment of losing major strike weapon Michael Gordon after the speedster broke his left leg in the side’s narrow defeat to the Bulldogs. Penrith matched motors with the visitors before tries to Josh Morris and Bryson Goodwin inside the final 10 minutes left the Panthers licking their wounds with a 22-14 scoreline.

Gordon’s absence for at least 10 weeks places more pressure on the shoulders of skipper Luke Lewis, fullback Lachlan Coote and playmaker Luke Walsh, while the side is still adapting to life without linchpin forward Petero Civoniceva.

Brian Smith has made just one change to his side, with Daniel Mortimer forming an extended bench given the return of Braith Anasta at five-eighth.

Meanwhile Ivan Cleary has been forced to field an all-new wing combination, with Etu Uaisele replacing the concussed David Simmons and Sandor Earl stepping in for Michael Gordon. Danny Galea has been added, making an extended interchange with the other members unchanged from last week.

Watch Out Roosters: Luke Lewis’s versatility makes him the danger man. Last time they clashed Lewis had a scorcher, scoring a try, adding 142 metres with two line-breaks and five offloads.

If the chooks don’t stop big Panthers’ forwards Tim Grant and Sam McKendry early they’ll be on the retreat all afternoon – Grant made the fourth-most metres by a Panthers bookend on record last week (202) while McKendry stepped up in Petero Civoniceva’s absence too, making 134 metres.  

Danger Sign: With Michael Gordon gone it’s time left centre Michael Jennings stepped up. The NSW representative crossed for just one try in 15 outings last season – but he scored 16 in 2010. The good sign is he’s already on the scoreboard following a speculative effort last week and is definitely capable of more. Look for halves Luke Walsh and Travis Burns to get him ball with room to move.

Watch Out Panthers: Mitchell Pearce contributed 19 try assists in 2011 – and three of them came in one game against the Panthers. The No.7 laid on four-pointers with a short pass for Todd Carney, long pass for Shaun Kenny-Dowall and bomb for Braith Anasta. Last Monday night he figured in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ crucial 78th-minute try to open his 2012 try assist account. The Panthers’ defence needs to be vigilant every play and limit the amount of time Pearce has to work out his options or the Blues’ rep will eat them alive.

The Roosters’ back three will be out to make inroads after making a whopping 433 metres last meeting with the Mountain Men. And they’re fresh off a demoralising 446 metres against the Bunnies. Sam Perrett looks like he’s warming to another big season with 19 runs and 145 metres last week.    

Danger Sign: If the Roosters take to the boot often it’s because they’ve worked out Panthers fullback Lachlan Coote is suspect defusing kicks. Braith Anasta embarrassed Coote when he snatched a bomb from his grasp to score last time they met. Last year the Panther defused bombs a wobbly 66 per cent of the time. Long kicks presented huge problems too – Coote dropped both sent his way – while he also struggled with chips (50 per cent), grubbers (55 per cent) and midfield kicks (40 per cent).

Anthony Minichiello v Lachlan Coote: Two fullbacks who are among the best support players in the game. Coote terrorised the Roosters the last time the sides met, scoring twice and making 101 metres, and he punched out 130 metres against the Bulldogs last week. Minichiello, the Roosters’ hero at the death in Round 1, made 20 runs for 150 metres. Both players are bound to tally high metres again and the momentum they offer from the back will be crucial to their side’s chances.

Where It Will Be Won: In improvement – the Roosters need to stiffen their defence while the Panthers need to find more ways to get across the try line. The Roosters scored four tries last week but their 37 missed tackles were the second most by any side. The Panthers have the opposite concern – they conceded just 1051 metres to the Bulldogs, the fewest by any side, but troubled the scoreboard attendant just twice. Whichever side can maintain application of their strengths and build on their weaknesses should prevail.

The History: Played 77; Roosters 48, Panthers 28, drawn 1. The Roosters have won five of the past eight clashes, including the past two. The Roosters hold a 9-6 advantage at Allianz Stadium (formerly the SFS).

The Last Time They Met: The Roosters carved up the Panthers 34-26 at a windy SFS in Round 18 last year, with Todd Carney scoring a double in his most damaging display of the season. The home side led 22-14 at halftime before Luke Lewis crossed immediately after the break for a 22-20 scoreline. Tries to Roosters Braith Anasta and Shaun Kenny-Dowall sealed the deal. Two players who won’t be there this weekend were the Roosters’ most punishing: Carney made two line-breaks and 170 metres, while Kenny-Dowall added 167 metres, eight tackle busts and two offloads. The Panthers were best served by Lewis (142 metres) and fullback Lachlan Coote (two tries and four offloads).

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Henry Perenara; Video Referee – Tim Mander.

The Way We See It: Even at this early stage both of these sides are showing good discipline when in possession. The Panthers tallied the fewest errors last week (nine), with the Roosters close behind (10). One of these sides is going to slip up this week however – we get the feeling it could be the Panthers who’ll rush their plays looking to rack up enough points to get the decision. If that’s the case the Roosters will build on their dream start and exit Allianz with two from two. Roosters by six points.  

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats