Slowly but surely the Roosters are working their way up the ladder, notching their ninth win of the season with last week's 18-16 defeat of a very stubborn Newcastle.
Trent Robinson has repeatedly acknowledged his team hasn't reached its potential, but you get the feeling he feels more comfortable than he did four or five weeks ago. While the Roosters still have two-thirds of the Origin period to get through, they boast one of the NRL's best defensive records and Robinson is keeping the faith the offence will be running on all cylinders at the business end of the season.
The Panthers underlined their premiership credentials with last week's gutsy 23-22 win over Canberra, getting out of jail with a late try and clutch kicking in the final minutes by James Maloney (sideline conversion) and Nathan Cleary (field goal).
This clash – easily the game of the round – is being played on the Roosters' home turf, but that's unlikely to bother the Panthers given their success on the road this season.
Roosters v Panthers - Round 15
Key match-up: No surprises here, with a marquee match-up in the halves between Roosters duo Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk and Penrith's James Maloney and Nathan Cleary. Maloney and Cleary form arguably the best halves combination in the NRL and it's up to Keary and Cronk to call all the right shots for the Chooks.
For the Roosters to win: Good as they have been defending lately, the Roosters are prone to allowing the opposition dictate tempo for extended stretches of games. They have to keep pushing the Panthers backwards and get their still suspect offensive execution right. Latrell Mitchell is fast becoming one of the game's most damaging players and the Chooks need to get him lots of touches of the ball.
For the Panthers to win: They went back to a slow start against the Raiders before stealing it at the death, but they don't want to be in that position against a strong defensive team like the Roosters. The Panthers need to come out with fire in their eyes like they did against the Dragons in round 12, get the Roosters on the back foot and keep them guessing.
Roosters Stat Attack: The Roosters haven't done so well against the teams sitting at the very top, having lost three games from four against top four opposition this season. Coming off a close two-point win over the Knights on Saturday, the Roosters will have to dig deep to bring down the Panthers.
Panthers Stat Attack: Fighting against the Dragons for top spot on the ladder, the Panthers have recent history on their side as they aim for a fifth consecutive victory against the Roosters.
And another thing: James Maloney exited the Roosters three years ago but there are still people at the club who wish he never left. He left the Roosters to become an integral member of the Sharks' 2016 premiership-winning team and his form this season at the age of 31 is one of the main reasons Penrith are on top of the ladder. Maloney showed he is still one of the best under pressure with a clutch sideline conversion that tied the game last week against Canberra before Nathan Cleary won it with a field goal.
Match: Roosters v Panthers
Round 15 -
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Sydney Roosters v Penrith Panthers, Friday 7.55pm at Allianz Stadium
Roosters: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 Luke Keary, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Dylan Napa, 11 Boyd Cordner, 17 Victor Radley, 13 Isaac Liu
Interchange: 12 Mitch Aubussion, 15 Zane Tetevano, 16 Kurt Baptiste, 18 Nat Butcher
Roosters coach Trent Robinson has elevated Victor Radley to the starting line-up in place of Mitch Aubusson. Siosiua Taukeiaho was dropped, with Nat Butcher promoted to the bench. Paul Momirovski was cut an hour before kick-off. Lindsay Collins and Billy Smith were omitted 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 Jack Hetherington, 17 James Tamou
The Panthers are 1-17. Viliame Kikau is out with a knee injury, replaced by Jack Hetherington on the interchange. Tyrone May and Nick Lui-Toso were cut an hour before kick-off, while Jarome Luai and Liam Martin were omitted on Thursday.
Head-to-head: Played 88; Roosters 54 wins, Panthers 33 wins, 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 21; Roosters 12 wins, Panthers 9 wins
2017 result: Roosters won 14-12 at Panthers Stadium in round 3
Points per game: Roosters 20.1; Panthers 23.1
Points conceded per game: Roosters 15.1; Panthers 14.1
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League