Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers
One of the most intriguing match-ups of the weekend pits an underwhelming Bulldogs team against a Panthers outfit that underperformed horribly early on but has hit a bit of (admittedly patchy) good form of late.
The Dogs would have been hugely disappointed not to close out last week's eventual 9-8 loss to an Origin-ravaged Sharks team (despite missing a couple of handy players of their own to the Blues camp), especially given it now puts them on a three-match losing run.
All three of David Klemmer, Josh Jackson and Brett Morris have been named to back up from Origin in an otherwise-unchanged line-up.
The Panthers – who staged comeback wins against the Warriors and Knights heading into last week's bye – have unfortunately lost five-eighth Bryce Cartwright (ankle) and hooker Peter Wallace (groin) to injury but do have the luxury of depth to call on.
Former Dragons rake Mitch Rein makes his club debut in jersey No.9 and skipper Matt Moylan slides into five-eighth for the first time at NRL level having helped the Blues win Origin III last year from that position. Young gun Dylan Edwards gets his third start of the season in his preferred fullback position and back-rower Isaah Yeo (ankle) returns after missing the Knights game. Tackle-busting winger Josh Mansour (ACL) makes his return from a seven-month knee injury and young half Te Maire Martin is included in the reserves list.
Why Bulldogs can win: The Panthers have looked fragile in their past two wins, falling behind by big scores to teams near the bottom of the ladder. The Dogs may not have sung the team song in a month but there's no way they'll get run down if Penrith let them get out to a big lead. Their defence will be key in closing down the instinctive Panthers; only the Dragons have missed fewer tackles this year than Canterbury who will be desperate not to give Penrith any room early on.
Why Panthers can win: Although they're missing a couple of key players their replacements are strong and the likes of Edwards, Rein and Mansour will be full of energy with Edwards in his third NRL game of the year and the other two in their first. Penrith also have no players backing up from Origin compared with three for Canterbury. Penrith are of course coming off the bye as well while Canterbury's non-Origin played a tough match against the Sharks last week. If that doesn't all add up to a fast start to the mountain men questions will be asked of their preparation.
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Offloads, Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Tackles.
The history: Bulldogs v Panthers: Played 90; Bulldogs 51; Panthers 36; Drawn 3. It's mostly been win-loss between these two clubs of late with the last two, four, six, eight and 10 meetings all split 50-50. Penrith however are on a five-game losing run at ANZ having not won there since downing the Dogs in 2014.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters can't decide who to back here. Money is split almost 50/50 in the head-to-head market, and there's an even spread across margin betting, with Bulldogs 1-12 marginally the most popular. Looks like a tough one to pick. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall; Touch judges: Dave Ryan and Chris Sutton; Review Official: Luke Patten; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 4pm. Fox Sports – Live from 4pm.
NRL.com predicts: There is plenty to like about the Panthers here but we're tipping the grit of the Dogs to win the day – Canterbury by four.