Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs
Two sides with two wins and three losses find themselves in eighth and 11th respectively as the Penrith Panthers play host to the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Pepper Stadium on Friday night.
Both outfits are coming off comprehensive defeats at the hands of the Storm and Cowboys away from home and will be looking to bounce back as quickly as possible.
The Bunnies face their third road trip in successive weeks and have only managed a tight win over the Knights before succumbing to the Cowboys in Townsville, while the Panthers couldn't match it with a red-hot Storm side despite having majority of possession throughout the game.
A mouthwatering battle awaits in the halves with the Nathan Cleary-Te Maire Martin combination taking on Adam Reynolds and the in-form Cody Walker, who has been the visitors' best in the opening five weeks of the competition.
Three potential New South Wales candidates are also set to take the field for the battle of the hooking role, with Peter Wallace's name being thrown into calculations for the No.9 Blues jersey in recent weeks.
The Panthers will be without four of their mainstay backline for the clash with skipper Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku all demoted to the Intrust Super Premiership for breaking team protocol earlier in the week. In-form Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey will also miss the contest with a fractured rib leaving coach Anthony Griffin to blood debutant Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, the older brother of Dallin, in the backline.
Michael Oldfield and Dylan Edwards fill the remaining vacant spots with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare named in the centres.
For the Rabbitohs, Robbie Farah has been named in the 21-man squad despite injuring his back against the Cowboys with George Burgess listed in the reserves after a two-week suspension, alongside former Knight Robbie Rochow.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard will play his 50th game in the Telstra Premiership, while the side will be out to secure their 500th victory in the club's history.
Why the Panthers can win: The Rabbitohs have conceded 11 tries in the opening 30 minutes of their games in total and have struggled to get back into the game being behind on the scoreboard. Penrith have proved dangerous in the final quarter of the first half, scoring nine tries with the half-time break looming. Souths' left-edge is struggling in defence with nine tries conceded, while the visitors have also struggled with second phase play with a limited amount of offloads (37) from five games. The Panthers created plenty of opportunities against Melbourne but couldn't turn half chances into points and are second best in the Telstra Premiership for line-breaks.
Why the Rabbitohs can win: They've conceded the least amount of penalties than any other side in the competition with 22 (4.4 per game) compared to the Panthers who are almost double at 41 (8.2 per game). Maguire's men also control the ball better than the Panthers, with the home side the worst in the NRL with 62 errors at an average of 12.4 per game. If the Rabbitohs can get off to a good start, they might have too much experience for a Panthers team who have dropped three of their players.
 Telstra Premiership: Te Maire Martin vs Cody Walker
Line Breaks, Try Assists, Line Break Assists, Tackle Breaks.
The history: Played 78; Panthers 34; Rabbitohs 43; Drawn 1. Recent history suggests the Rabbitohs have won five of the last seven against the Panthers, however at Pepper Stadium the home side have won nine of their last 13 clashes against the Bunnies at the venue.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has taken twice as much money on the Panthers in the head-to-head market, with most punters including them in their multis over the weekend. Penrith 13+ has received more support than all of the other winning margins combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: Dave Munro. Touch judges: Jon Stone and Nick Beashel. Review Officials: Ben Galea and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 & Fox League – Live from 7:50pm.
NRL.com predicts: This is too close to call. Prior to Tuesday's team lists you would think the Panthers at home would be the safe bet, however the loss of their skipper and almost entire backline leaves the Bunnies with a strong chance out wide if the forward pack can outmuscle Penrith's big men. The halves' kicking game should be all that splits them… anyone for a golden point thriller? Let's go with Panthers by a point – Nathan Cleary field goal.