Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Thursday March 10, 8.05pm AEDT
The Panthers will celebrate 50 years in the NRL on Thursday night against the side they met in their first competitive game back in 1967.
Penrith will be aiming for their first win of 2016 against the side that produced arguably the most impressive 80-minute display in Round 1.
Des Hasler's Bulldogs were at their brutal best in a clinical Friday night dismantling of his former side the Sea Eagles, while the Panthers battled hard against the Raiders in stifling conditions, eventually going down by eight points.
Both teams will be without their starting hookers after falling victim to the injury 'curse' that hit the NRL in Round 1.
For the Panthers, James Segeyaro (broken arm) has been replaced by Tyrone Peachey at No.9, but don't expect him to play the entire game in that position. Elijah Taylor has earned a recall on an extended five-man bench alongside Sitaleki Akauola. Matt Moylan and Dean Whare are still at least another week away.
The Bulldogs have named Craig Garvey to replace Michael Lichaa (knee), while Kerrod Holland will make his NRL debut at right centre with Chase Stanley (hamstring) set to miss. David Klemmer returns from suspension and will make his 2016 debut from the bench.
Watch out Panthers: Any fears the reduction in interchanges would affect the Bulldogs were quickly put to bed with a dominant display against the Sea Eagles. James Graham led the way with 231 metres and 40 tackles in a 72-minute performance, while back-rowers Josh Jackson and Tony Williams both churned out 80 minutes. Penrith will need to develop a game plan to limit their effectiveness.
Watch out Bulldogs: Early season combinations are crucial, and the Bulldogs are now without two members of the spine expected to start in 2016. Michael Lichaa joins Brett Morris in the casualty ward, replaced by former Dragon Craig Garvey. The regular No.9 made 42 tackles against Manly, and the Bulldogs will miss his defensive tenacity in the middle of the field. Garvey has only 10 NRL games under his belt, and might struggle to play the full 80 minutes.
Key match-up: Will Smith v Will Hopoate. This fullback match-up will be a true battle of Wills. Neither player was expected to start the season in the No.1 jersey, but both had impressive hit-outs in Round 1. Will Smith made 141 metres and had several incisive kick-returns against the Raiders, and his speed could trouble the Canterbury big men in the middle third of the field. Will Hopoate scored a fortuitous try and was more than solid at the back, defusing a number of kicks on the night. Both players have the ability to ball play, and could be asked to do more in attack with both regular dummy-halves missing.
The history: Played 88; Panthers 35, Bulldogs 50, Drawn 3. The Panthers' first game in the NRL was against the Bulldogs back in 1967, and Thursday night's contest will shape as a 50th anniversary celebration for the men at the foot of the mountains. There have been some classic moments in recent years, with Moylan nailing a sideline conversion after the siren to seal a famous victory in 2014, before the Bulldogs exacted revenge by dumping the Panthers out of the preliminary finals later that year. Penrith won the corresponding fixture last year thanks to some Segeyaro brilliance, but the Bulldogs won the return contest with ease. The Panthers have won six of the last 10 meetings, including four of the last five at Pepper Stadium.
What are the odds: An incredible 90 per cent of the money invested has gone on the Bulldogs in head-to-head betting. Bulldogs 13+ has been overwhelmingly backed with Sportsbet while Curtis Rona and Sam Perrett are the popular picks for first try scorer. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Adam Devcich. Touch judges: Jeff Younis & Chris Sutton. Review officials: Luke Patten & Ashley Klein. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 7:30pm; Fox Sports (Live) – 7pm AEDT.
The way we see it: The Panthers were admirable without James Segeyaro in Round 1, and will miss his attacking prowess around the ruck. Expect the Canterbury forwards to make an early statement like they did last week, before grinding out a second straight win. Bulldogs by 8 points.