Schick Hydro Preview: Wests Tigers v Penrith Panthers
Two clubs with contrasting starts to the season will battle it out in Sydney's west when Wests Tigers host the Penrith Panthers in their Round 2 clash at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers comprehensively overcame the Robbie Farah hype to put away the Rabbitohs in Round 1, while a terrible performance from the Panthers got their season off to a rough start against the Dragons in Kogarah.
Both sides conjured up victories against each other in 2016, with the joint venture enjoying a 34-26 victory at ANZ Stadium in Round 17, before the Panthers returned serve with a seven-try display to halt the Wests Tigers' charge to the finals in August.
The 40-10 result came a week after Tigers fullback James Tedesco broke his jaw against the Titans and incredibly, the Panthers are the only team he is yet to score a try against in the competition – albeit it after only two appearances against them.
This contest features a mouth-watering clash at fullback between Tedesco and Panthers skipper Matt Moylan, as well as the forwards battle with Aaron Woods leading the charge for the Tigers against fellow NSW Origin forwards James Tamou and Trent Merrin.
Throw in the battle of the halves with 2016 Dally M rookie of the year Nathan Cleary linking with five-eighth Te Maire Martin, who takes on his former club for the first time, lining up against the Mitchell Moses-Luke Brooks combination that is on the improve with every game.
With the forecast expected to be fine and sunny on Sunday, a dry track will certainly benefit both sides and their abilities to throw the ball around. The result ultimately will come down to which side is willing to defend their line better.
In team news, Tigers rookie Moses Suli has been retained on the left wing after a strong start to his NRL career, with Michael Chee-Kam preferred at centre over Jamal Idris, who will come off the bench.
Plenty of former Panthers will line-up in the Tigers outfit with Idris, Kevin Naiqama, Tim Grant and Elijah Taylor all spending time at the foot of the mountains in previous years.
For the Panthers, a fractured eye socket to Peta Hiku will see the winger miss up to a month with rookie Dylan Edwards penciled in for his second game in the Telstra Premiership. He will mark up against Tigers winger David Nofoaluma, who ran for over 200 metres with six offloads against the Rabbitohs and has 11 tries from as many games at the Campbelltown venue.
Penrith's other injured winger, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, has been named in the 21-man squad but only just returned to light training earlier in the week and is likely to be drop out of Anthony Griffin's final 17.
Why the Panthers can win: The bounce-back factor and their ability to score points from anywhere. After a poor showing last week, a short trip to Campbelltown should have the Panthers ready to make amends. They missed 47 tackles against the Dragons and were eaten alive up the middle with the Red V racking up almost 2000 run metres against them. The Wests Tigers were the second best for the round in that stat with 1807 metres, so if the Panthers are to win the game they'll need to control the middle a lot better and limit the yardage of Jason Taylor's big men.
Why Wests Tigers can win: Their combinations in key positions are firing early and more settled to that of the Panthers, with the halves now in complete control in leading the forwards around the park. The Panthers halves now find themselves in a similar position to that of Moses and Brooks three years ago, trying to find their feet as a combination in the Telstra Premiership.
 Telstra Premiership: James Tedesco vs Matt Moylan
Try Assists, Line Break Assists, Line Breaks, Tries.
The history: Played 29; Wests Tigers 12 wins; Panthers 17. Recent history suggests the Panthers have enjoyed scoring points against the Wests Tigers in their last four clashes with an average of 31 points in attack, resulting in three wins. However the joint venture have won seven of the last 10 fixtures between the two since 2011, and the last four against the Panthers at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters aren't predicting a Panthers revival after their disappointing start to the season. Eighty-five per cent of money invested on the game is with the Wests Tigers, and Tigers to win 13+ has received more support than Penrith 1-12 and 13+ combined. The Tigers could challenge for favouritism if the flow of money continues late into the week. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au http://sportsbet.com.au/
Match officials: Referee - Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee - Matt Noyen; Touch judges - Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski and Jeff Younis; Review Officials - Luke Patten and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 4:00pm; Fox League – Live from 4:00pm.
NRL.com predicts: It's a tough one. Everyone knows after last season what the Panthers can do and they have been hit with distractions all week, which will only rattle their cages more. Don't wake the beast, as they say. If their forwards can topple the Tigers, the halves should come into play. On the other hand, the Wests Tigers are a team on the rise with combinations in key positions well and truly intact. After their first-round performance against the Bunnies, it's hard not to go past them with Brooks, Moses and Tedesco to again put on a show, this time at home. Wests Tigers by 10.