Panthers v Knights: Ponga to five-eighth, Merrin in for Tamou
Cameron Ciraldo must've been thinking his first grade coaching career was off to a bad start when Penrith trailed by 10 with five minutes to go last week.
But then the Panthers did what the Panthers do, coming back from the dead to steal victory.
Ciraldo will be hoping for a much more comfortable victory on Saturday against the Knights, no doubt aware his team faces the Warriors and Storm in enemy territory over the final two rounds of the regular season.
Their place in the top eight is secure and one more win might ultimately be enough to cement a top four finish, but it's more likely the Panthers will need two more wins.
The Knights were out-played by the Warriors last week but can never be underestimated if Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce are around.
Match: Panthers v Knights
Round 23 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: With James Maloney's knee injury expected to sideline him until the playoffs, Nathan Cleary becomes the main man for the Panthers. Tyrone Peachey's diverse attacking role also takes on added significance, but it's Cleary's duel with Knights star Mitchell Pearce which could be decisive.
For the Panthers to win: It's been several weeks since the Panthers came out and had a team on the ropes after 20 minutes. They need to get a heavy roll on in the forwards from the get-go and give the likes of Cleary, Peachey and their quick outside backs plenty of room to create scoring chances. The Panthers also need a defensive effort worthy of a premiership contender.
For the Knights to win: As has been the case all season, this team's success hinges largely on what they get from Pearce and Ponga. The Knights need steadier contributions from experienced campaigners like Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowall. And of course if they do happen to build a lead, they should be under no illusions about the Panthers' ability to steal victory at the death.
Panthers Stat Attack: Cameron Ciraldo's men know how to entertain – and equally how to leave their coaching staff on edge following their recent come from behind victories against the Sea Eagles, Raiders and Titans. Penrith have engaged the line on 296 occasions, only trailing the Rabbitohs (335) and Warriors (303). They also have 725 tackle breaks to their name as well as 249 offloads.
Knights Stat Attack: They may be sitting in 11th, but it hasn't stopped the pride of the Hunter boasting the equal best set completion rate (79%) in the NRL. Ponga has justified the hype, with 12 line breaks and 10 try assists from 19 dazzling appearances. Collectively Nathan Brown's team have made 7104 tackles.
And another thing: Cleary showed how mentally tough he is last week in golden point against the Titans after missing a match-winning conversion after the siren. The NSW Origin halfback shrugged off the miss, demanding the ball with the game on the line in extra time and nailing a clutch field goal for the win. Fear of failure is the mark of all great champions.
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Tyrone PeacheyFullback for Knights is number 18 Nick Meaney
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Josh MansourWinger for Knights is number 2 Ken Sio
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Waqa BlakeCentre for Knights is number 3 Sione Mata'utia
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Dean WhareCentre for Knights is number 4 Cory Denniss
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Dallin Watene-ZelezniakWinger for Knights is number 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Tyrone MayFive-Eighth for Knights is number 1 Kalyn Ponga
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell Pearce
Prop for Panthers is number 15 Trent MerrinProp for Knights is number 8 Herman Ese'ese
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Sione KatoaHooker for Knights is number 9 Danny Levi
Prop for Panthers is number 10 Reagan Campbell-GillardProp for Knights is number 10 Daniel Saifiti
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Isaah Yeo2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Mitchell Barnett
Lock for Panthers is number 16 Corey Harawira-NaeraLock for Knights is number 13 Aidan Guerra
Interchange for Panthers is number 8 James TamouInterchange for Knights is number 14 Jamie Buhrer
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Wayde EganInterchange for Knights is number 16 Pasami Saulo
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Moses LeotaInterchange for Knights is number 19 Josh King
Interchange for Panthers is number 18 Kaide EllisInterchange for Knights is number 21 Luke Yates
Panthers: Trent Merrin has regained his starting spot, with James Tamou switching to the bench. Corey Harawira-Naera replaces James Fisher-Harris at lock and Kaide Ellis is on the bench. James Maloney (knee) and Jack Hetherington (suspension) are out, with Tyrone May starting at five-eighth. Chris Crichton and Liam Martin were the last players cut an hour prior to kick-off.
Knights: A key game-day change by Nathan Brown, with Nick Meaney given the nod to start at fullback and Kalyn Ponga moving to five-eighth. Jack Cogger has been dropped along with Chris Heighington, while Josh King and Luke Yates have been promoted to the bench.
Head-to-head: Played 46; Knights 23 wins, Panthers 20 wins, 3 draws
Previous result: Panthers won 29-18 at McDonald Jones Stadium in round 10
Points per game: Panthers 22.2; Knights 17.5
Points conceded per game: Panthers 18.5; Knights 25.4
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: Plenty of upheaval at Penrith in the past couple of weeks but they still found a way to get out of jail against the Titans. Every win is vital at this stage of the season and the Panthers will take them any way they can get them. The Knights keep on fighting but Penrith will be too strong at home.
Tip: Panthers by 8