Panthers v Sea Eagles
Saturday, 7:30pm (AEST)
Both Penrith and Manly will be hoping to improve following some worrying early-season form.
The Sea Eagles are easily the most desperate of the two, having been lambasted by their own on social media after last week's toothless 29-16 putdown by the Raiders in Albury.
The pride of the northern beaches are languishing in the unfamiliar position of the bottom rung on the NRL table with a 1-4 record.
Since their inaugural season in 1947, Manly has never finished with the wooden spoon. Of equal concern is the fact that no team in the NRL era has made the finals after losing four of their first five games.
Meanwhile for the Panthers, not since the Luke Walsh days have they been bounced three times in succession. Their normally rigid defensive line was cut to shreds by one Johnathan Thurston in last week's 30-10 affair, a frustrating encounter that now has the locals sending an SOS for playmaker Jamie Soward.
He'll miss his third straight game after back surgery that needs at the very least, four weeks to heal.
The loss of centre Dean Whare (hamstring, 1-2 weeks) is a blow, but that means fans get to see more of second-gamer Waqa Blake, who'll partner Jamal Idris in the centres. The big fella gave second row a go last week and could've blown Pepper Stadium down after his first 19-minute stint.
Sika Manu returns to the back row, while Lewis Brown (ribs, 1-2 weeks) and Brent Kite (shoulder, 1 week) remain sidelined.
For the Sea Eagles, coach Geoff Toovey named the same line-up that went down in Albury, although skipper Jamie Lyon (groin), Steve Matai (shoulder) and Feleti Mateo (ankle) could be late inclusions.
Brenton Lawrence (back, indefinite), Josh Starling (knee, 4 weeks), Clinton Gutherson (knee, season), Tony Satini (shoulder, 2 weeks) and Blake Leary (back, indefinite) are all still unavailable.
Watch Out Panthers: Tom Trbojevic, the rookie with the bleach-blonde hair and pimply face got plenty of plaudits for his first outing in the NRL last week, and with good reason. The 18-year-old easily outshone his tired teammates with team-highs of 175 metres, two line breaks and two tries. They've been trumpeting this kid for so long that it's finally reached across the harbour bridge and unless the Panthers do their homework on the kid, they'll see why too.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: There wasn't a whole lot to write home about in Penrith's defeat to the Cowboys, but it was another debutant in Waqa Blake that caught our eye for a second. Aside from fellow rookie Reagan Campbell-Gillard, the 21-year-old out of Perth was the only other Panther to crack the triple figure mark in yardage. He's another one for Toovey to study up on, both defensively – he might've cracked a few ribs last week – and, at 190 centimetres in height, in the air too.
Key Match-Up: Matt Moylan v Brett Stewart. The battle of two fullbacks with some of the best mits in the competition is worth the admission alone. But you could just as soon be paying premium value to see it live should one of them fill the sizeable shoes of Jarryd Hayne during State of Origin. New South Wales coach Laurie Daley will undoubtedly be paying close attention to these two stars after naming them – along with Dragons No.1 Josh Dugan – as contenders for the coveted Blues spot last week.
The History: Played 79; Panthers 28, Sea Eagles 50, drawn 1. These Panthers won't have good memories of their last match against Manly, having been pipped on the siren in a 26-25 thriller in the final game of the year at Brookvale last season. The Sea Eagles have taken out four of the past six.
What Are The Odds: Panthers $1.53 v Sea Eagles $2.50. Money is running around 50/50 in this clash but there’s next to no support for the Sea Eagles in line betting even with the 5.5 start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Adam Reid and Rick MacFarlane. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Ben Galea.
Televised: Foxsports 1 – Live 7.30pm (AEST)
The Way We See It: The home side is in a rut without their spark plug in Soward, and there's a chance at least one of Lyon, Matai and Mateo could be on that team sheet an hour before kickoff. A desperate Sea Eagles team is a traditionally dangerous one, and with Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran still in that line-up, we believe it's our duty to suggest you go Sea Eagles by seven.