Schick Hydro Preview: Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers
Will the real Wests Tigers please stand up?
And for that matter can the Penrith Panthers please do the same?
The western Sydney derby features two sides capable of playing some of the most attractive football in the Telstra Premiership, but both are yet to produce an 80-minute performance to make them genuine contenders in 2016.
Both the Tigers and Panthers have been plagued by a tendency to take on a Jekyll-and-Hyde complexion, not just on a week-to-week basis but within individual games.
The Tigers were non-existent in the first half against the Storm last weekend, finding themselves down 26-0 before exploding to life after the break to fall just short of what would have been the biggest comeback in the club's history.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were always in control of their game against the Rabbitohs but were almost run down despite leading by 14 points inside the final 10 minutes.
This looms as a crunch game for the eight-placed Panthers while the Tigers desperately need a win to keep their finals dreams alive.
The battle between James Tedesco and Matt Moylan won't just go a long way to determining the outcome of Saturday night's contest; it could also settle the debate as to who should wear the No.1 jersey for the Blues in Origin III.
Robbie Farah returns for the Tigers via the interchange bench with Dene Halatau starting at dummy-half and Elijah Taylor switching to lock.
The Panthers have included Sam McKendry on an extended bench in an otherwise unchanged side from the one that took care of South Sydney last week.
Watch out Tigers: He was touted as one of the biggest signings for the 2016 season and while he mightn't be grabbing the sort of headlines some of his teammates have attracted, Trent Merrin is quietly going about his business at his new club. The former Dragons lock ranks in the top 20 in the NRL for metres made (1,978) and offloads (29) and has revelled in his move to the second row. Merrin is coming off statistically his best game of the year, making 223 metres and 45 tackles – both season highs – against the Rabbitohs.
Watch out Panthers: While James Tedesco will be the man to watch for the Panthers defensive line, they'd be foolish to ignore the threat posed by Luke Brooks. The Tigers halfback has had a mixed season so far but was at his best in last week's loss to the Storm when he scored a try, set one up, made a line break and had a season-high six tackle breaks. Brooks has also kicked two 40/20s in 2016 – only Cameron Smith has more – and looks settled after he signed a contract extension earlier this month.
Key match-up: James Tedesco v Matt Moylan. This is more than just a club game for two of the form fullbacks in the competition. For NSW fans, this is a showdown to see who'll wear the No.1 jersey for Origin III. Moylan has done little wrong at Origin level, and has been in terrific form for his club this season, but there is no disputing that Tedesco is one of the most dangerous players in the competition with ball in hand. The Tigers custodian has scored 11 tries and made nine try assists and four try saves from just 12 matches in 2016. Throw in 75 tackle breaks – ranking him second in the NRL – and it's clear to see why every man and his dog is calling for Tedesco to be picked for the dead rubber.
The history: Played 27; Wests Tigers 11, Panthers 16. Penrith has won the last two meetings between the sides but it was all the Tigers before that with the black and golds winning seven on the trot. This is the first time the sides have met at ANZ Stadium since 2007, and just their third game overall at the venue. The Panthers won the only meeting last year with a four-try haul to David Simmons inspiring a 35-12 win at Leichhardt Oval.
What are the odds: Money is surprisingly running 50/50 in the head-to-head market with Sportsbet customers taking advantage of a pretty generous price available for the Wests Tigers. Both Wests and Penrith have been backed to win 1-12 rather than 13+. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: David Munro. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Brett Suttor and Kasey Badger.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4:55pm.
The way we see it: This is one of those toss-of-the-coin games that could well come down to a bounce of the ball from the final play of the game. It should be a high-scoring affair between two sides who love to use the football, and given their spot on the ladder, we're leaning towards a tight Panthers win to solidify their place in the top eight. Nathan Cleary will kick a field goal late in the game to seal a Penrith win by seven points.