Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Sydney Roosters
If ever there was a time for the Panthers to replicate their 2003 Grand Final heroics, it would be this Monday night against the Roosters.
The Panthers blew a golden chance in extra time last weekend to move into seventh spot on the ladder, but were instead left heartbroken by Shaun Johnson's twinkle toes in golden point.
They'll head into Monday's clash 10 competition points ahead of the Roosters, but that will count for little against a side starting to find form.
After a demoralising run of six straight losses, the Roosters returned to the winner's circle with a deserved 32-16 victory over the Broncos last week.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson recently joked that finishing higher on the ladder than local rivals South Sydney would motivate his team for the rest of the year, and a win on Monday night could help make that a reality, with the Tricolours a chance to move up to 12th if results go their way.
Both teams have named unchanged line-ups.
To celebrate the club's 18-6 grand final win over the Tricolours 13 years ago, adult tickets will be $18 while children will only have to pay $6 to see their side battle it out for a spot in the Telstra Premiership top eight.
Watch out Panthers: He was meant to be out for the season but Boyd Cordner has recovered from a foot injury suffered in Origin I to stamp his authority as the best back-rower in the game. Cordner has averaged 180 metres and 31 tackles over the past fortnight and was easily the best player on the park in the Tricolours' win over the Broncos, scoring the try that put the result beyond doubt. The 24-year-old has a good record against the Panthers with a career-best five tries from eight appearances.
Watch out Roosters: It might be their most profitable side in attack, but the Roosters' left-edge defence has been their weak link in 2016, allowing 33 tries down the flank already this year. Penrith's right-side attack also happens to be their most prolific, with 24 tries coming down that channel this season.
Key match-up: Josh Mansour v Latrell Mitchell. Since he made his State of Origin debut, Josh Mansour has taken his game to scary levels. The Blues winger has been on fire, scoring three tries, running for 653 metres and producing a whopping 36 tackle busts in the past three weeks to surge to the top of the leader board with 11 tries for the Panthers in 2016. He'll have to be at his best on Monday to contain Roosters rookie Latrell Mitchell, who has taken the competition by storm this year. Mitchell has scored 12 tries in his debut season, including a double against the Panthers in Round 7, and is starting to find his feet on the wing since moving there three weeks ago.
The history: Played 86; Panthers 32, Roosters 53, Drawn 1. The Panthers got the chocolates earlier in the year with a 20-16 win at Allianz Stadium, but the Roosters won five of the six meetings before that; four of those by 20 or more points. They've also won the past two clashes at Pepper Stadium.
What are the odds: Not exactly the biggest betting game of the round, but Penrith are the subject of the bulk of money wagered according to Sportsbet. The Panthers have even been supported to cover the line in handicap betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au http://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/rugby-league/.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant referee: Adam Devcich. Sideline officials: Dave Munro and Phil Henderson.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 6:30pm.
The way we see it: These teams love playing out thrillers in 2016, with the Panthers (15) and Roosters (9) featuring in a stack of games decided by 10 points or less. If the game is on the line with five minutes to go, you'd want to be on the Panthers given they have more to play for. But don't discount the visitors. One win won't mask what has been an otherwise disappointing season for the Roosters, but the next five weeks can be the building blocks they need to prepare for 2017. We'll tip a 22-all draw.