Panthers v Roosters
It doesn't get much harder than playing the miserly Roosters at the moment. Second on the competition table, they have the best points for-and-against differential of any side (plus-237) and have conceded the least amount of points (209). That is an average of just 11.6 points conceded per game, the sort of average that premiership-winning teams often boast.
During their current, five-game winning streak, the Roosters' defensive average is even better than their stunning overall average. While beating the Bulldogs 20-18, the Sea Eagles 18-12, the Dragons 36-0, the Sharks 40-0 and the Knights 28-12, they have conceded at an average of 10.4 per game. The Panthers, like every other team, are going to find it difficult to break them down.
It is going to be even harder for the Panthers when you consider their injury problems, which mainly hit them in the forwards. Sure, the Roosters are without suspended superstar Sonny Bill Williams, but the Panthers are without Sam McKendry, who has been missing long term, Matt Robinson and Nigel Plum. Lachlan Coote and Brad Tighe remain unavailable in the backs as well.
The Panthers made a strong run of six wins from eight games to break into the top eight, but their injury problems then mounted and they struggled in their past two games, losing 32-14 to the Knights and 38-10 to the Sharks. They have dropped to 10th, and need to start winning again now if they hope to make the finals. But it's going to be a huge challenge for them here.
Mose Masoe returns on the bench for the Panthers, replacing Sam Anderson. Josh Mansour is added to what is a five-man bench.
For the Roosters, Mitch Aubusson rises from the bench to replace Williams in the starting side, and Aidan Guerra comes in on the bench.
Watch Out Panthers: This is the return to Centrebet Stadium of Roosters centre Michael Jennings, who, of course, made his name at the Panthers and thought he would be there forever. His first game against his old team, in Round 8 at Allianz Stadium, saw him score two tries in a 30-6 win to the Roosters. Jennings only needs half a chance and he's away. The Panthers are going to have to be on high alert.
Watch Out Roosters: The Panthers know how to get crisp, clean ball through the hands to their wingers – James Roberts and David Simmons – and also off the accurate boot of halfback Luke Walsh. Roberts has scored six tries in six games this season, and Simmons 15 in 18. The Panthers are going to have to bring the two wide men into play with the right opportunities if they are to get around the Roosters' defence.
Plays To Watch: Rival second-rowers Sika Manu and Boyd Cordner know how to score tries – they just tend to do it differently.
Manu, with four tries from 14 games for the Panthers this season, has tremendous power, and when he puts his head down and charges from close to the line he is very hard to stop.
Cordner, with seven tries from 17 games from the Roosters, likes to use his athleticism to run a great angle wide of the ruck near the line, get outside of his defender and sprint for the line.
Key Match-Up: Roosters and NSW halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney each found it difficult in the State of Origin series, but they have slipped straight back into gear since returning to regular club football. They will make things happen here, and it is up to Panthers halves Luke Walsh and Isaac john to be at their very best, because – let's face it – the Panthers are going to find it harder to make things happen against the extraordinary Roosters defence.
Where It Will Be Won: It's going to be hard enough as it is for the Panthers' forwards minus several players against the Roosters' dominant pack. If the Roosters are allowed cheap metres out of dummy-half on top of that through Jake Friend, and later Daniel Mortimer, it will become too hard. The Panthers have to close them down and get some cheap metres out of dummy-half themselves through Kevin Kingston, and later James Segeyaro. In a game like this, the opportunistic Segeyaro's contribution could be crucial.
The History: Played 80; Panthers 30, Roosters 49, drawn 1. The past 10 clashes have been split 5-5. The Panthers have won three of the past four at this venue.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Jason Robinson; Sideline officials – Russell Turner & Luke Potter; Video referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Warriors v Sharks clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Live – Channel Nine, 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld).
The Way We See It: It's desperate stakes for the Panthers, because their season is just about on the line, so we should expect them to come out hard. But the Roosters are in the zone with their form at the moment, and it would take something special to force them out of that. The Panthers, with a few forwards missing, don't look to have what it takes. Roosters by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats