Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers
How about this one for a Monday night blockbuster? No-one who saw it could ever forget the last meeting between these two teams, when the impressive Panthers shocked the minor premiers at this very ground in the first week of the 2014 finals series, coming from behind in the final five minutes to steal a stunning win via a Jamie Soward field goal at the death.
After just two games, Penrith are one of just four unbeaten teams along with the Rabbitohs, Wests Tigers and Knights. Their massive win over the Titans at the weekend has them top of the table on for-and-against. Interestingly, they are now the only team left in the competition that has not been behind on the scoreboard at any stage so far this year.
The Roosters battle against the Rabbitohs last week was one for the ages and while they lost the game, if anything they enhanced their reputation as a force to be reckoned with in 2015.
Coach Trent Robinson has named an unchanged 17, with Willie Manu added to the bench.
The Panthers had a relative stroll in the park out in Bathurst against the undermanned Titans, with hulking centre Jamal Idris enjoying a day out, notching a hat-trick in the 40-0 shut-out.
There are two huge changes for Ivan Cleary's side; five-eighth Jamie Soward is out with a back injury in what is a huge blow, replaced by Isaac John. Tackle-busting winger Josh Mansour returns after off-season surgery in place of exciting youngster George Jennings.
Watch out Roosters: High-energy hooker James Segeyaro has been the form No.9 in the competition over the opening two rounds. His pace off the mark shooting out of dummy half has had opposition defences in all sorts, but he doesn't clock off once he's distributed the ball either: his try against the Bulldogs in Round 1 was vintage support play and broken field running. Only five players have more than his 10 tackles breaks after two weeks, a rare feat for a hooker. The Roosters were on the receiving end of some quality dummy-half work from Issac Luke last week so hopefully they've been watching Segeyaro in their video sessions this week.
Watch out Panthers: The Panthers need to be on high alert from about the 20-minute mark because young giants Kane Evans and Dylan Napa will enter the fray. You can't take a breather once you've seen off the opening salvos from Kiwi Test props Sam Moa and (the freshly-re-signed) Jared Waerea-Hargreaves because Evans and Napa were two of the best on the field against the Rabbitohs. The pair combined for a massive 230 metres and nine tackles breaks in barely 60 minutes on the field combined, and they made a serious impact.
Key Match-Up: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Matt Moylan. Two very different but equally talented and exciting fullbacks will be on display this Monday. Tuivasa-Sheck is making an excellent fist of his full-time shift to fullback so far while Moylan's development has him in early Origin calculations. While the Tricolours custodian is very much the ball-running fullback, Moylan is much more of a ball-player – although that doesn't mean you should underestimate his running game either. He was devastating against the Titans with three try assists and 170 metres, while Tuivasa-Sheck has 394 running metres and nine tackle breaks in two games.
The History: Played 83; Roosters 51, Panthers 31, Drawn 1. The last 10 are split five apiece, although until Penrith's amazing victory in last year's finals series the Tricolours had been on a three-game run against the boys from out west.
What Are The Odds: Roosters ($1.45) v Panthers ($2.75). Twice as many bets have been placed on the Panthers in this one and four times the money in head to head betting according to Sportsbet. Punters are all over the Panthers at the line, receiving 6.5 points start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant referee: Matt Cecchin. Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane and Chris Sutton. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7pm (NSW), Live 6pm (QLD).
The Way We See It: The only thing we're sure of is we can't wait for this one to kick off. Penrith have been outstanding but they faded late against Canterbury and didn't get a huge test against the Titans so we'll get a proper measure of where we're at in this one. The Roosters, on the other hand, very much look like an early force to be reckoned with after consecutive impressive outings. The big out here is Panthers playmaker Jamie Soward. On that basis we'll lean towards the Tricolours in a close-fought tussle. Roosters by 8 points.
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