Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The final game of the Telstra Premiership regular season heads to the foot of the mountains as the Panthers take on the Sea Eagles in a match that could have finals implications.
Victory would make it five wins on the trot for the Panthers, and should the Bulldogs slip up against the Bunnies, Penrith would move up to sixth spot on the ladder and a showdown with the blue and whites in the opening week of the finals.
Last week's 15-14 win on the Gold Coast wasn't always pretty but it will give Anthony Griffin's men confidence that they don't have to rely on their attack to get them over the line.
Mad Monday can't come around soon enough for Manly after their 2016 campaign was ruined by a seemingly endless run of injuries to key personnel.
There were promising signs against the Raiders with Manly piling on 30 points, but defence was their undoing as the Green Machine raced in eight tries of their own to run out easy winners.
The Panthers have named Jeremy Latimore and Moses Leota on an extended bench to replace Reagan Campbell-Gillard (back) in what will double as the club's Old Boys' Night.
Trent Barrett has shuffled the deck with Dylan Walker and Matt Wright forming a new centre pairing for the Sea Eagles. Apisai Koroisau shifts to five-eighth, Matt Parcell starts at hooker and Lewis Brown drops to the bench, while Blake Leary replaces Frank Winterstein on the bench.
Watch out Panthers: He might be playing on one leg but Tom Trbojevic remains Manly's number one attacking threat. The 19-year-old has been hampered by an ankle injury for most of the season but it hasn't affected his output, with the fullback scoring 10 tries and averaging 164 metres this year. He is fresh from a standout showing against the Raiders where he grabbed his first hat-trick in the NRL.
Watch out Sea Eagles: If the past fortnight is anything to go by then expect Manly's left-edge defence to be assaulted at Pepper Stadium. Melbourne's right winger Suliasi Vunivalu bagged four tries in Round 24 while Jordan Rapana crossed for a hat-trick and his centre partner Joey Leilua scored twice last week against the Sea Eagles. In all, they have allowed a staggering 32 tries down that side of the field, while Penrith's right edge is their most profitable source of points with 31 tries in 2016. Expect Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to get plenty of ball on the weekend.
Key match-up: Trent Merrin v Jake Trbojevic. A pair of locks could hold the key to Sunday's contest, with both Merrin and Trbojevic proving to be in the upper echelon of middle forwards in 2016. The Panthers No.13 has the edge in metres (3393 v 2536) and offloads (50 v 16) but his Sea Eagles counterpart is ahead in tackles (813 v 756). Both men know their way to the try-line and have the motors to churn out huge minutes if required.
The history: Played 82; Panthers 31, Sea Eagles 50, Drawn 1. It's been one-way traffic for the Panthers in recent years with the Chocolate Soldiers winning five of their past six against the Sea Eagles. They came from nowhere to get the job done in Round 14, overturning a 20-4 half-time deficit to emerge 31-24 victors in what was Nathan Cleary's second game in the NRL.
What are the odds: 90 per cent of the money invested on this game has gone with the Panthers according to Sportsbet. Penrith have been well backed to cover the line as well as win 13-plus. There's been a lot of money on the overs in total points scored. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline officials: Nick Morel and Rohan Best. Review officials: Bryan Norrie, Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 6pm.
The way we see it: Anything but a huge Penrith win would be a shock result. Panthers by 20.
Game on. Data off.
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