Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers: Schick preview
Perhaps there's a method to Anthony Griffin's madness after all?
The Penrith Panthers have farewelled veteran trio Jamie Soward, James Segeyaro and Elijah Taylor this season and the upside is starting to shine through.
Led by skipper Matt Moylan, representative back-rower Trent Merrin and champion hooker Peter Wallace, the Panthers now find themselves on the precipice of a finals berth.
Not bad for a team who had to beat their upcoming opponents last year to avoid the wooden spoon.
The Knights will be out to combat a 14-game losing streak against the Panthers on a day where they will celebrate James McManus's retirement.
Tyler Randell (ribs) is set to make his return at hooker. Danny Levi hasn't been named and is set for season-ending back surgery.
Mitch Barnett will return from suspension in the back row. Pauli Pauli reverts back to the bench and Jacob Saifiti will start at lock with Knights co-captain Jeremy Smith unavailable.
Watch out Knights: Nathan Cleary was the star of the show in the Panthers' 20-point win over the Roosters. Two try assists – including Tyrone Peachey's Try of the Year contender – and a try of his own saw Cleary set himself apart from fellow playmakers Ryan Matterson and Connor Watson. With a defence efficiency of 90.5 per cent this year, this 18-year-old is no walk over.
Watch out Panthers: Barnett has been a revelation for the Knights since joining the club in June. The 22-year-old had played just two NRL games for the Raiders prior to his arrival. It has been two weeks since he last featured for the Knights – following a suspension for a shoulder charge on Andrew Fifita moments after he squared off with Paul Gallen – and the Knights will sure welcome his grunt.
Key Match-Up: Jarrod Mullen v Bryce Cartwright – Cartwright isn't a five-eighth and the quicker he moves back to the forwards, the better. While Te Maire Martin waits patiently for another chance in the Intrust Super Premiership, Cartwright will have to make do another week with the No.6 on his back. Cartwright will need every bit of experience he's gathered these past two months when it comes to Jarrod Mullen. The former Blues playmaker had his best performance of the season against the Bulldogs last weekend.
The History: Played 42; Knights 23, Panthers 16, Drawn 3. The last time the Knights had a losing streak this long (2005) it was the Panthers who helped end it –a Clint Newton double turning the Knights' season around. In recent years, Penrith have won three of their past four against the Knights including last year's clash for the wooden spoon.
What are the Odds: Penrith may be extremely short in the betting but it hasn't deterred Sportsbet customers. Newcastle have been supported at the line where they're receiving their customary big start. The Knights have had very little support in the head to head market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Dave Munro. Assistant Referee: Adam Devcich. Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel and Clayton Sharpe.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 1:35pm.
The way we see it: With a victory over the Knights, the Panthers can begin to separate themselves from the logjam of teams in and around eighth position on the Telstra Premiership ladder. The Knights will win another game this year but it won't be this one. The Panthers put a misfiring Roosters side to the sword last start but it won't come as easy for them in Newcastle. Panthers by eight points.