Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
With both teams securing essential wins last weekend, this game could prove to be a make or break one in the grand scheme of things.
The Panthers ended their three-game losing streak with a huge 35-12 win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday, while the Rabbitohs similarly managed to get their season back on track with a 20-8 win over Manly – just two weeks after the reigning premiers had gone down to the Tigers.
As their respective forward packs gear up for a huge battle up front, each team will be buoyed by their lack of Origin representatives – with South Sydney captain Greg Inglis the only man in either team to miss this one.
Inglis being out means Alex Johnston will shift to fullback and the veteran Joel Reddy comes onto the wing, while the Panthers are unchanged from their last start.
Watch out Panthers: With his streak of 86 consecutive games of scoring points broken last week, having been concussed in the first quarter of the Rabbitohs' game against Manly, halfback Adam Reynolds will be looking to bounce back from his injury-ravaged season in a big way. After racking up six try assists in his eight games this season, Reynolds will be out to make Penrith's lives a living hell.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Sure they were helped by Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor's decision to put Kyle Lovett in the centres instead of veteran outside back Chris Lawrence, but take nothing away from the Panthers' right edge last weekend. David Simmons's four tries came off the back of perfectly timed shifts out wide between halfback Peter Wallace and centre Dean Whare, while the decoy running of Bryce Cartwright was commendable. Another option looms with Cartwright too, who can easily take control of such plays.
Key Match-Up: David Simmons v Aaron Gray. Simmons and Gray coming up against one another may not be the highest profile match-up in Friday night's game, but it is perhaps one of the more important ones. Both are in great try-scoring touch – veteran Simmons brought up 100 NRL tries with last week's four-try bonanza, while South Sydney's next big thing Gray has scored seven tries in the first eight games of his career.
The History: Played 75; Panthers 32, Rabbitohs 42, Drawn 1. Penrith haven't beaten South Sydney since 2011 and have lost by an average margin of 17.5 in their past four matches. The last time they played the Rabbitohs prevailed 18-2 back in Round 6, 2014.
What are the Odds: The number of bets on the game is running two to one in favour of the Rabbitohs but Sportsbet punters are backing the Bunnies to get home by 1-12 rather than 13-plus. Rookie speedster Gray is becoming a favourite for backers of first try scorer and is the best supported player. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid and Rick MacFarlane; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 7:30pm
The Way We See It: While Inglis is no doubt a huge loss for the Rabbitohs, his impact has been severely limited this season and Alex Johnson is a more than handy back-up at fullback. The Panthers will be desperate to make amends for their terrible recent history against South Sydney, but the Rabbitohs may be too good especially if Adam Reynolds manages to stay on the field for once. Rabbitohs by 7.