Panthers v Raiders: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders
Rugby League returns to Bathurst for the fourth consecutive season as the Penrith Panthers return to Carrington Park when they host the Canberra Raiders for the second time at the venue.
Both sides will only have to cast their mind back to Round 9 last season when a Peter Wallace field-goal was all that could split them after in-form Raiders winger Jordan Rapana leveled the game up at 18-18 after some freakish heroics in the air.
While the Panthers got the result in the regular rounds, it was the Raiders who would have the last laugh in September to knock Anthony Griffin's side out of the Telstra Premiership.
Penrith's 38-0 victory over the Bulldogs was their strongest performance of the season with Matt Moylan's move into the No.6 jersey proving a masterstroke, while Canberra were put through more heartbreak at the hands of the Sea Eagles with a second golden point loss to Manly and their third golden point loss this season.
With both line-ups keen to throw the ball around in recent weeks, it shapes as a cracking contest but one that could force both teams to rethink their approach with heavy rain forecast for Saturday.
The Panthers have made no changes to the side that convincingly knocked over the Bulldogs with former Australian international Josh Mansour set to go one-on-one with Rapana on the wing in just one of the key match-ups between the two sides. Rapana has scored six tries in five appearances against the Panthers, including a double in Bathurst last season.
Canberra have been riddled by injury to their forward pack in 2017 and have lost both Shannon Boyd and Dunamis Lui to knee injuries after the loss to the Sea Eagles.
Veteran utility Iosia Soliola moves into the front row for the third time in his career with Luke Bateman returning to the starting line-up, while former Bulldogs forward Royce Hunt is set to make his Telstra Premiership debut off the bench for Ricky Stuart's side after being named in the No.15 jersey.
Why the Panthers can win: Their strike power out wide matches the Raiders' back five and the loss of Boyd up front for the visitors swings the forward battle in favour of the mountain men. Not much statistically splits the two teams, however Canberra's biggest downfall this season has been their defence - particularly in second halves of games conceding 24 tries compared to the Panthers' 16 at the backend of the contest in games.
Why the Raiders can win: Penrith's red-hot attack in the past month will have Stuart's side destined to match it. Remarkably, the Raiders haven't scored over 24 points in a game since Round 7 but with the edge of Rapana and Joey Leilua beginning to return to form, the rest of the side will follow. Canberra have been starved of the ball in 2017 – averaging 48.5 percent per game in a clear sign opposition are tactically slowing the potent Green Machine down. With an even share of the ball, the Raiders are proven no easy beats.
 Telstra Premiership: Matt Moylan vs Blake Austin
Line Breaks, Line Break Assists, Try Assists, Tackle Breaks.
The history: Played 70; Panthers 34; Raiders 35; Drawn 1. Results are fairly even overall which indicates just how unpredictable the contest between the two sides can be.
Canberra have had the more recent success on the scoreboard over the Panthers winning four of their last five games, however are struggling on the road this season having won only two of seven away clashes to start the season.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are all aboard the Panthers train after last week's big win over the Bulldogs. 75 per cent of the money is with Penrith in the head-to-head market, but Panthers 1-12 is more popular than a big 13+ win. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant referee: Chris James. Touch judges: Rohan Best and Tim Roby. Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox League – Live from 5:30pm.
NRL.com predicts: Just one of the many close encounters set for the weekend and a game that can go either way. Both sides have underachieved so far to start the year but can turn it on in attack when they want to. Surely the Raiders won't be dealt with another golden point game again? We will go with Penrith after their strong game last week, but not with a whole lot of confidence. Flip a coin, hope for some fine weather - it should be a cracker. Panthers by 6.