Panthers v Raiders preview
Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
Two sides on the verge of the top eight go head to head in a clash that could make or break their season this Sunday afternoon.
The Raiders visit Penrith off the back of another heartbreaking one-point loss and will be fired up to bounce back into the winner's circle.
They have some big team news with the experienced Josh McCrone called upon to fill the sizeable void left by the injured Sam Williams at halfback.
With 137 first grade appearances to his name, McCrone should be a solid partner to the exciting Blake Austin after Ricky Stuart's failed experiment with Jack Wighton in the halves last week.
Otherwise, Sisa Waqa misses this clash with a knee injury, Wighton will take his place at fullback with Joey Leilua holding onto his centre jersey.
Meanwhile for the Panthers, Ivan Cleary has decided against making wholesale changes following a poor performance against the Storm.
David Simmons returns on the wing in place of Robert Jennings, while Bryce Cartwright returns to the bench with Sika Manu set to start in the back row. Apisai Koroisau is the 18th man.
Watch Out Panthers: Blake Austin will once again be the danger man for the Raiders at the weekend, and he'll have further motivation to have a big game considering he's coming up against the club where he played his junior football. The one thing that the Panthers will have on their side however is the fact that Austin is missing his right-hand man Sam Williams for this clash. Williams provides Austin time and space to create havoc with his running game, with the star five-eighth clearly missing his presence last week. If Josh McCrone can play a similar role to the crafty halfback at the weekend, Austin will surely star once again, and will be odds on to add to the 13 tries he's already notched up this year.
Watch Out Raiders: Jamie Soward will once again be providing the attacking spark for Penrith. If he's on his game, and his pack can provide him space, Soward has a unique mix of skills to dominate any team. His kicking game is outstanding, and he can wreak havoc with ball in hand. With his combination alongside tough halfback Peter Wallace building nicely, the experienced five-eighth will be hoping to pin the Raiders down their own end with his pin-point kicking before manufacturing points near the line.
Key Match-Up: Peter Wallace v Josh McCrone. Two tough experienced playmakers go face to face in the most important position on the field in this clash. Wallace is his side's captain while McCrone is returning from a long stint in NSW Cup. This should be a tight-fought and crucial encounter on Sunday afternoon. Wallace will know if he can make his opposite number look like a reserve grader, he will also be debilitating the performance of Blake Austin. For McCrone, if he can provide the leadership, game control and short kicking game that the Raiders missed so much last week, his team certainly has the points in them to get the win.
The History: Played 65; Panthers 33, Raiders 31, Drawn 1. The last time these two sides met the Panthers won 26-20 in the nation's capital.
What Are The Odds: Ever since markets came out, there’s been consistent support for the Raiders to cause an upset here. 50% more money has been placed on Canberra according to Sportsbet and their price has come in almost daily. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Jeff Youni and David Ryan. Video Referees: Jared Maxwell and Ben Galea.
Televised: Foxsports – Live from 2:00pm.
The Way We See It: Both of these side's have fallen out of form in recent weeks but both have so much to play for. This result may well come down to who cares more about playing finals football this year. The Panthers have clearly been weakened by injury throughout the year, while the Raiders are missing just one, albeit a very crucial piece of their puzzle. We expect the Raiders will out-muscle their opposites on Sunday afternoon, they'll win by 10.