Tigers v Panthers
Wests Tigers are going to have to improve dramatically on their first-round loss to Newcastle if they are to beat Penrith in the battle of the big cats. The Tigers will start favourites in this match, based mainly on the fact they are playing at home, but it won't be as simple as that. They were awful against the Knights, whose big, tough forward pack dominated that game and laid the foundation for a 42-10 win at Hunter Stadium on Monday night, and they face another big, tough pack here.
Penrith made an unexpectedly strong start to the season with a 32-10 win over Canberra at Centrebet Stadium on Sunday. The Raiders, after star backs Josh Dugan and Jarrod Croker were passed fit to play, started favourites in the match, but never looked like winning after the Panthers had scored a crucial try just before halftime to go to the break with a 12-6 lead. And it was the Penrith forward pack that led the way.
The Knights dominated possession against the Tigers, finishing with a lopsided 63% of it. They made 1457 metres, compared to just 812 for the Tigers, and completed 34 of 40 sets as opposed to 18 of 27. The Panthers had 55 per cent of the ball against the Raiders, made 1462 metres against 1042 and completed 33 of 40 sets compared to 23 of 34. These are the glaring statistics the Tigers have to try to turn around in a week.
They are capable of doing that, and whenever they have Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah in the side they remain a threat, but their discipline is going to have to improve enormously. They made too many errors and gave away too many silly penalties against Newcastle. Penrith will play the percentages and try to take advantage of errors from the opposition. The Panthers have the constant threat of either Kevin Kingston or James Segeyaro out of dummy-half, and will use it.
Penrith's team has been drastically remodelled from last year, with a lot of new signings, and judging by their first-round performance coach Ivan Cleary has done a great job in establishing cohesion during the off-season. Sika Manu and Lewis Brown, two of the new men, have been paired in the second row and both played well against Canberra. Up front, big men Sam McKendry and Tim Grant command respect.
The Tigers face a big challenge to match the Panthers physically. Representative prop Keith Galloway will lead the way, but he will need more support than he got against the Knights. It's obviously way too early in the season to describe any game as a "must-win", but the pressure is certainly on the Tigers to stand up after an awful performance to open the season. The Panthers, meanwhile, will concentrate on working hard and pressuring the opposition as the basis of their plan.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Penrith's back three of fullback Dean Whare and wingers Josh Mansour and David Simmons isn't the most fashionable around, but they made 412 metres between them in 43 runs in the win over Canberra. That is going to give them the confidence to go looking for the chance to run the ball against a Tigers outfit that is under pressure to lift its game defensively.
Watch Out Panthers: It would be unusual if Benji Marshall had two ineffective games in a row. It wasn't a situation made for him against Newcastle, considering the Tigers had so little ball, but he was still quiet. Expect him to bounce back against the Panthers, get his hands on the ball a lot and put the opposition in two minds.
Plays To Watch: The Tigers need a bit of that 'wild man' stuff from Adam Blair to spur them on. He is at his best when he charges, full-on, into the defence, attracting multiple defenders and backing it up with a quick play-the-ball for his teammates to try to take advantage of a hole in the defence. Penrith won't go away from the plan that worked in Round 1, when Kingston and Segeyaro worked the opposition over from dummy-half. The Panthers will look to consolidate, rather than suddenly bank on razzle-dazzle.
Key Match-Up: Jacob Miller v Luke Walsh. The oldie (Walsh) versus the newie at halfback. Walsh's kicking game – his greatest strength – was spot on against the Raiders, including a faultless display of goal-kicking. The game against the Knights wasn't a great opportunity for the inexperienced Miller, considering the Tigers didn't get their hands on the ball much, but he still needs to start doing more (just 20 receives last week).
Where It Will Be Won: It won't matter that Marshall and Robbie Farah are two attacking geniuses if the Tigers can't do a lot better in the forward battle than they did against the Knights. The Panthers will sense an opportunity to get on top through the forwards in this game, and if they do that then Walsh will put the cream on the cake with his kicking game.
The History: Played 23; Panthers 14, Tigers 9. Penrith boast a tremendous record against the Tigers and have won four of their past seven games at Campbelltown. However, they have struggled in recent times with the Tigers winning their past five clashes and scoring a total of 151 points in those games.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed, 4pm. Fox Sports – Delayed, 6pm.
The Way We See It: The Tigers will have been stung by the size of their embarrassing loss to the Knights. The Panthers, meanwhile, have to prove they can do it on a week-in, week-out basis. The Tigers should lift here, and playing at home we're going to tip them to win a close battle. Wests Tigers by four points.