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Panthers v Sea Eagles: Taufua out, Lane to start; Panthers' rep stars to back up

Like the rest of the teams in the top four, the Panthers had loads of players on rep duty last weekend and coach Anthony Griffin might consider resting one or two on Saturday against Manly.

The most obvious candidate for a break is 31-year-old halfback James Maloney, but unless he's banged up from Origin II the veteran playmaker will probably put his hand up to play.

This will be Penrith's first full game without in-form prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard after he suffered a broken jaw in round 15 against the Roosters and it remains to be seen how they will manage in his expected six-week absence.

The Panthers (10-4) will be keen to bounce back from the heavy loss to the Roosters and stay firmly in the hunt for the minor premiership.

With just four wins from 15 games, Manly will be spectators for the 2018 finals. The Sea Eagles continue to be cursed by injuries and have a tough battle on their hands to steer clear of the wooden spoon.

Panthers v Sea Eagles - Round 16

Key match-up: It doesn't seem long ago that Daly Cherry-Evans was turning heads as a 22-year-old Sea Eagles rookie and being touted as a future star. That was in 2011, and on Saturday Cherry-Evans squares off with one of the game's current young stars in 20-year-old NSW Origin halfback Nathan Cleary. It's been a trying year for Manly and their chances of causing an upset will be a lot greater if DCE outplays Cleary.

For the Panthers to win: Anthony Griffin has to rank among the top three candidates for NRL Coach of the Year after keeping the Panthers around the top of the ladder all season despite injuries to several key players. He has repeatedly had to fill gaps and his latest dilemma is finding someone to hold the fort in the front row in the absence of RCG. If the Panthers own the Sea Eagles up front they will punish them through the backs.

For the Sea Eagles to win: As has been the case all season, a lot rests on the shoulders of Cherry-Evans to not only create try-scoring opportunities but also to lead his injury-hit team around the park. The 14th-placed Sea Eagles have to forget about the ladder and the scoreboard, put their heads down and play hard and together for 80 minutes.

Panthers Stat Attack: History is very much on Penrith's side here, with the hosts having won six of their past seven against Manly. They haven't lost to the Sea Eagles in Penrith since 2011.

Sea Eagles Stat Attack: They may find themselves in the bottom three on the NRL ladder but the Sea Eagles do have some cause for optimism, with their left-side attack ranked second in the league, Martin Taupau ranked first for offloads and Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake both inside the NRL's top five for post-contact metres.

And another thing: When it comes to some players you just have to take the bad with the good. Maloney leads the NRL in the line engaged category (65) and is second in kicks (154), but also has missed 98 tackles. The next closest is Luke Brooks (62). Then there's Jake Trbojevic conceding more penalties (22) than anyone in the competition, but every footy watcher knows the NSW forward's best work can't be measured in numbers and the good far outweighs the bad.

Penrith Panthers v Manly Sea Eagles, Saturday 3pm at Panthers Stadium

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 James Tamou, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Kaide Ellis, 16 Jack Hetherington, 17 Moses Leota

The Panthers are 1-17, which is good news for coach Anthony Griffin after having several players involved in last weekend's Rep Round. James Tamou starts for Reagan Campbell-Gillard (cheek fracture) with Moses Leota joining the interchange. Viliame Kikau (knee) returns and starts in the back row with Corey Harawira-Naera (groin) out. Liam Martin, Caleb Aukins and Paea Pua were cut from the reserves on Friday afternoon, while Jarome Luai, Tyrone May and Nick Lui-Toso were trimmed from the reserves an hour prior to kick-off.

Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic, 15 Matt Wright, 3 Moses Suli, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Bradley Parker, 6 Dylan Walker, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 9 Manase Fainu, 10 Martin Taupau, 11 Joel Thompson, 16 Shaun Lane, 1 13 Jake Trbojevic

Interchange: 12 Frank Winterstein, 14 Trent Hodkinson, 17 Taniela Paseka, 21 Kelepi Tanginoa

Jorge Taufua is out, replaced on the wing by Matt Wright, while Shaun Lane has been promoted to the starting line-up at the expense of Frank Winterstein. Dylan Walker returns at five-eighth with Trent Hodkinson benched. Brad Parker replaces Akuila Uate (ankle, season) on the wing. Kelepi Tanginoa moves to the interchange bench after initially being dropped on Friday. Lloyd Perrett was dropped from the reserves 24 hours before kick-off, while Tom Wright and Toafofoa Sipley were omitted an hour before kick-off. 

Head-to-head: Played 32; Sea Eagles 25 wins, Panthers 7 wins
Matches at venue: Played 13; Sea Eagles 8 wins, Panthers 5 wins
Previous result: Panthers won 22-10 at Allianz Stadium in Finals Week 1, 2017
Points per game: Panthers 21.9; Sea Eagles 20.0
Points conceded per game: Panthers 15.9; Sea Eagles 24.3
Televised: Live on Fox League

Steve Turner's prediction: The Panthers will be hoping Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are set to go after guiding New South Wales to a series win. The Panthers were poor during their last outing against the Roosters and need to improve to continue to stay a top four side. Manly will look to Daly Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic brothers to spark them, but they are busted and down on troops and the task will be too big. Tip: Panthers by 10

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