Coming off a bye last week, both the Raiders and Panthers will be eager to get the ball rolling for a full round 14.
Canberra stayed in top eight contention with a last-gasp one-point win over Manly in round 12 and Friday's home clash with the competition leaders kicks off a four-week stretch which will effectively make or break their season. After locking horns with the Panthers they hit the road for three straight games against the Tigers, Broncos and Bulldogs.
Penrith hardly put a foot wrong over the first half of the season, soldiering through injuries to key players as they climbed to the top of the table.
It'll be interesting to see how Nathan Cleary, James Maloney, Tyrone Peachy and Reagan Campbell-Gillard pull up less than 48 hours after lining up for NSW in the Origin series-opener.
Key match-up: The Panthers will be crossing their fingers playmakers Nathan Cleary and James Maloney have no problems backing up after Origin duty. Regardless if they are in or out, a lot of eyes will be on Trent Merrin in his first game since being overlooked for a spot in the NSW forward pack. A 13-game veteran with the Blues, Merrin has been around long enough to know that rather than spit the dummy, the most effective way to prove a point is on the field. The 28-year-old has a tough battle on his hands against the likes of Shannon Boyd and Josh Papalii.
For the Raiders to win: Against a well-oiled machine like Penrith, the Raiders have to be disciplined not only in the penalty department but also in the way they control the pace of the game. If they allow the visitors to dictate tempo it could frustrate the Raiders into rushing their attack. They need to patiently build pressure and work hard to starve the visitors of an even share of possession.
For the Panthers to win: With four players backing up from Origin, the Panthers need their lesser lights to shine. Having said that, Nathan Cleary is so young (20) that he might be jumping out of his skin to play on Friday, and that could spell trouble for the Green Machine. If Penrith hold Canberra's big men up front it will limit their ability to shift the ball to their speed men out wide.
Raiders stat attack: Flying winger Nick Cotric will be crucial for the Raiders in getting some points on the board against the ladder leaders. The youngster has scored five tries in his past four games and his tally of seven tries in 2018 is the Raiders' best.
Panthers stat attack: The Panthers have held the Dragons and Wests Tigers tryless in their past two games and are conceding just 14 points per game this season - the best defence in the NRL.
And another thing: Canberra prop Dunamis Lui will play his 100th NRL game on Friday. Born in Brisbane, Lui spent three years with the Broncos before joining Manly for two seasons. The 28-year-old then had a season with the Dragons before linking with the Raiders last year.
Match: Raiders v Panthers
Round 14 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers, Friday 6pm at GIO Stadium
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker (c), 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Dunamis Lui, 9 Siliva Havili, 10 Shannon Boyd, 11 Iosia Soliola, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii
Interchange: 14 Ata Hingano, 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Charlie Gubb, 17 Liam Knight
The Raiders will start 1-17 after Michael Oldfield and Jack Murchie were the last two men dropped from the bench. Canberra have made one positional switch between Josh Papalii (who moves to lock) and Sia Soliola, who goes to the second row. Emre Guler and Craig Garvey were dropped from the squad 24 hours out from kick-off.
Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Tyrone Peachey, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 James Maloney (c), 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Corey Harawira-Naera, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Kaide Ellis, 16 Viliame Kikau, 17 James Tamou
Nathan Cleary, James Maloney, Tyrone Peachey and Reagan Campbell-Gillard will back up from Origin. Tyrone May, Thomas Eisenhuth and Nick Lui-Toso were the last players omitted from the squad an hour before game time. Hooker Peter Wallace (shoulder) is still not back. The only listed change from the last-start 17 that beat the Dragons in round 12 is Kaide Ellis replacing the suspended Jack Hetherington on the bench. Jarome Luai, Caleb Aikins and Liam Martin were all dropped from an extended bench 24 hours out from game time.
Head-to-head: Played 72; Panthers won 36, Raiders won 35, 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 28, Raiders won 19, Panthers won 9
2017 results: Panthers won 24-20 at Carrington Park in round 14; Panthers won 26-22 at GIO Stadium in round 24
Points per game: Raiders 21.8; Panthers 23.1
Points conceded per game: Raiders 21.8; Panthers 14
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: Both teams come into the clash off the back of a bye. The Panthers will have four players backing up from State of Origin compared to the Raiders one, but Penrith sit on top of the table for a reason and they will have too much class for Canberra.
Tip: Panthers by 6