Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
From now on it’s all about pride. With Penrith and Sydney Roosters both realistically out of the finals race, these final seven rounds stand as an opportunity to at least salvage something from what has been a disappointing 2012.
But the big question is whether or not the players have the passion or motivation to do so. Rumours of player discontent have been flowing with ever-increasing frequency from both of these clubs and unhappy players aren’t renowned for wearing their hearts on their sleeves for a coach they don’t wish to play for.
At Penrith, the past two weeks have been all about Luke Lewis. The former Panthers captain is headed elsewhere in 2013 – one of a number of high-profile players to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons this season. He will be joined at the departure lounge over the coming weeks by point-scoring fullback Michael Gordon, while winger Sandor Earl and hooker Nafe Seluini have already been granted mid-season transfers. And let’s not forget that star centre Michael Jennings and fullback Lachlan Coote were both dumped to NSW Cup earlier in the year. Clearly all is not well at the foot of the mountains – but then again, it has been a long time since this once-great club mounted a genuine premiership challenge so change, as they say, could well prove to be as good as a holiday.
The Roosters also seem to have hit a speed bump. Having begun the season strongly, they have won just once in their past eight outings and although they remain a mathematical chance of reaching the finals (they need six wins from their final seven games), it would take a minor miracle to reverse their current form.
Much like Penrith, the Roosters are undergoing a transformation with captain Braith Anasta set to join Wests Tigers next year and Sam Perrett and Anthony Mitchell granted mid-season releases over the past month. There has also been talk that halfback Mitchell Pearce is keen to find a new home, although countering that Roosters fans will be excited at the prospect of Sonny Bill Williams arriving in 2013.
Confidence will be the Roosters’ main hurdle this week following their remarkable last-minute loss to rivals South Sydney on Monday night. Brian Smith’s men have lost a series of heart-breakers this season and there is only so long you can take the hits before the shoulders slump and you call it a day.
Nevertheless, they won’t have a better opportunity to start a late charge than this week against one of the few clubs in the NRL enduring similarly difficult times.
In Penrith personnel changes back-rower Clint Newton returns from injury with Nigel Plum dropping back to the bench. Mitch Achurch makes up the extended five-man bench.
For the Roosters, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns from suspension with Mose Masoe also going back to a five-man bench.
Penrith have lost five games by single figures this season but will be hoping Jennings can help them notch a much-needed win. Jennings produced a career-high 16 tackle-breaks last week – just one shy of the club record set just eight weeks ago by Josh Mansour. The Panthers centre has scored seven tries in eight games against the Roosters.
Watch Out Panthers: The return from injury of Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall provides a much greater attacking threat for the visitors on their right edge. Kenny-Dowall has played just 10 games in 2012 but in that time he has amassed 49 tackle-breaks, 11 offloads, six line-breaks and five tries. He was one of his side’s best against Souths last week, producing seven tackle-breaks and running for 124 metres.
Danger Sign: Penrith will have to be strong in the tackle this weekend because the Roosters have produced more tackle-breaks this season than any other side with 607. Keep an eye on Joseph Leilua (77), Anthony Minichiello (54) and Shaun Kenny-Dowall (49).
Watch Out Roosters: The Roosters’ right-side defence will need to be on their toes against the Panthers who love attacking down their own left edge. Penrith have scored 27 tries on their left this season compared to just 13 on the right and nine through the middle. Left centre Michael Jennings leads the way for line-breaks at Penrith with eight in 2012.
Danger Sign: Penrith have built a reputation as the masters of attacking kicks in recent seasons and they could do worse than look to the cross-field bomb as their default kick this weekend. The Roosters boast the worst percentage in the NRL when it comes to defusing the cross-field bomb, with just 10 of 27 defused in 2012 at 37 per cent. Notably though, the standard bomb to the fullback (Anthony Minichiello) is likely to be far less effective, with the Roosters equal best in the competition in this regard at 89 per cent.
Michael Jennings v Shaun Kenny-Dowall: Expect these two to come into regular contact this Sunday with both sides preferring to attack through their dangerous centres. Jennings always poses a threat on Penrith’s left where his speed and agility makes him a handful, while Kenny-Dowall looms as an imposing presence for the Roosters with his sheer strength and ability to find the try-line.
Where It Will Be Won: The long-kicking game of these two sides will be crucial this weekend given that neither has excelled in this area in 2012. The Roosters have actually made significantly fewer metres this season than any other side with just 7977 at 469 per game (by comparison, the next fewest is 8936 at 525 per game by North Queensland).
However, they have been far more accurate than Penrith whose kickers have found open space just 42.8 per cent of the time this season – better than only South Sydney.
The History: Played 78; Roosters 48, Panthers 29, drawn 1. The Roosters have dominated meetings between these two sides and even hold a 23-16 record at Centrebet Stadium including five of their past seven at the foot of the mountains. However, overall honours have been split in recent times with four wins apiece since 2007.
The Last Time They Met: Penrith scored a dominant 18-0 win at Allianz Stadium in Round 2 to record their first win of the 2012 season. It was one-way traffic for much of the game, with the Panthers bursting out of the blocks and scoring their first try in the 14th minute when Sam McKendry busted the line from 20 metres out.
From the ensuing kick-off, Kevin Kingston broke straight through and although that raid came to naught, it was 12-0 shortly before half-time when Michael Jennings danced his way around three defenders to reach out and plant the ball.
The Roosters were their own worst enemies throughout the 80 minutes as poor ball control and questionable last-tackle options stymied any chance of a comeback. And it was another error that gifted Penrith their third try as Anthony Minichiello passed to no-one and Jennings scooped up the dregs to race 50 metres and score.
Penrith completed 79 per cent of their sets, compared with just 64 per cent by the home side, and ran for an extra 170 metres.
Jennings was particularly impressive, making 219 metres to go with his two tries and 11 tackle-breaks, while Sam Perrett impressed for the Roosters with 199 metres from 22 runs.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Gavin West; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: Toss a coin. The Panthers are a far better side at home and showed against Wests Tigers last week that they haven’t given up the fight just yet; however with just four wins this season it’s hard to have too much faith in them. Provided last week’s loss hasn’t demoralised them, we can see the Roosters edging this one. Roosters by four points.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.
*Statistics: NRL Stats