The Run Home: Panthers

How they stand: When a big, black cat is your team logo perhaps you are inviting disaster but a horror run of injuries in key positions must have left coach Ivan Cleary scratching his head. The Panthers play some of the most enterprising football in the competition but when your first-choice halfback, five-eighth, hooker and fullback are missing for large periods of the season risk-taking can very quickly become reckless. With Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace and James Segeyaro all back playing there is hope but the mountain men are almost certain to rue a couple of narrow losses when the top eight finals teams are declared in September.

With four games against teams not currently in the top eight in their last six the Panthers are capable of making a charge although the loss of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is another blow to a team crippled by injuries this season. The surprise packets of 2014 may come up just short in 2015.

Remaining fixtures: 
Round 20: v Raiders at Pepper Stadium, 2pm Sunday July 26
Round 21: v Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium, 4pm Sunday August 2
Round 22: v Eels at T10 Stadium (Darwin), 7pm Saturday August 8
Round 23: v Warriors at Pepper Stadium, 5.30pm Saturday August 15
Round 24: v Dragons at WIN Stadium, 7.45pm Thursday August 20
Round 25: v Raiders at GIO Stadium, 7pm Monday August 31
Round 26: v Knights at Pepper Stadium, 3pm Saturday September 5

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Key clash: Hosting the Warriors in Round 23 may answer two questions in terms of whether the Panthers can claim some big scalps and sneak into the top eight or if the Warriors are more than flat-track bullies on their home turf. Penrith could conceivably win their last five to charge into the finals but a slip-up here could cost them finals football altogether. 

 

Key player: Bryce Cartwright has been the leading light in recent weeks but as he joined the overflowing casualty ward in the wake of last Friday night's loss to the Storm inspiration will need to come from a different source. Jamie Soward missed six weeks due to back surgery early in the year and if these young Panthers can be guided into September it will have to be on the back of the 30-year-old's influence. Playing his 10th game of the season against the Storm Soward's line-break assist was his sixth of the season while his try assist tally stands at just four. The Panthers need him back at his most confident to be any hope of making a charge. 

Injury report: Having James Segeyaro back in black on Friday was a welcome sight for Panthers fans but Josh Mansour (knee) and Matt Moylan (ankle) are still a week or two away from a return and Bryce Cartwright (knee) has now joined them. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had done an admirable job filling in for Moylan at fullback before suffering a collapsed lung last week that has him facing the possibility of season-ending surgery to have the genetic condition rectified.

NRL.com predicted finish: 11th.

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Ladder Predictor: Who will make the Top 8?