Raiders v Panthers preview
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers
Two sides looking to add respectability to their season and distance themselves from the dreaded wooden spoon go head-to-head in what should be a closely contested encounter on Monday night.
Both sides were gunning for a place in the top eight just a couple of weeks ago, but are now mainly motivated by the threat of falling to the bottom of the ladder, with many of the lower-ranked teams winning in recent weeks.
Just one week after losing grip on their finals hopes, the Raiders produced the worst performance of their season in their 16-point loss to the Titans last weekend.
They have one casualty from that clash with Joey Leilua set to miss the rest of the season after pleading guilty to a shoulder charge, Brenko Lee will make his highly anticipated return to the NRL in his place.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will be looking to avenge their heartbreaking 10-point loss to the Raiders back in Round 20, with victory on Monday night.
After going down to the Dragons by seven points last start, they'll face the Green Machine without the services of experienced back-rower Elijah Taylor in this one.
Isaah Yeo is promoted to the starting team to cover Taylor, with Waqa Blake returning in the centres.
Additionally, Manly-bound Apisai Koroisau will start at five-eighth for Penrith while James Segeyaro is at hooker.
Tyrone Peachey is promoted to the starting back row meaning Sika Manu starts on the bench.
Watch Out Raiders: Tyrone Peachey brings his dazzling running game to the Panthers back row looking to damage the Raiders defence down the edges. With one of the biggest packs in the NRL, Canberra are the kind of team that Peachey can cause some real damage to with his amazing footwork and strength. The boys in green will have to get up and in Peachey's face to limit his involvement on Monday night.
Watch Out Panthers: Josh Papalii has been in bruising form on the Raiders right edge in recent weeks. He'll be looking to add to his already impressive try-scoring form on Monday night. Penrith will be looking for big Papa to take a few short balls off Sam Williams next to the line. They'll have to be super aggressive and get their shoulders in down low on the big Maroons star to stop him charging over.
Key Match-Up: Sam Williams v Jamie Soward. Two super skillful halfbacks go head to head in what should be an intriguing positional battle on Monday night. Williams has fallen off his game a bit in recent weeks and will be looking to firm his chances of a starting halves position next year with a strong finish to his season. Meanwhile, Soward has also struggled at times this year amidst an injury-interrupted team. He'll be looking to stamp his name on this game to show the league how dominant a player he can be once again.
The History: Played 66; Raiders 32, Panthers 33, Drawn 1. A late Edrick Lee intercept try saw the Raiders run away 34-24 last time these two sides met back in Round 20.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet punters can't make their minds up here. The money is split almost 50/50 in the head-to-head market, and both sides have been backed to win the game by a margin of 1-12. Edrick Lee has been the best backed in the first tryscorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane, Kena Waikai. Video Referees: Gerard Sutton, Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 7:00pm.
The Way We See It: The Raiders have been terrible at home this season, winning only two games to date. They barely showed up on the Gold Coast last week, so neither their record nor their recent form bode well for them in this one. But what they do have is a consistent team and a heap to play for now that they're threatened by the wooden spoon for the first time this season. They'll be too good for the Panthers and will bounce back to good form with a 14-point win.