The Panthers snapped back into the winners’ circle last round after two straight losses with a convincing 28-point win over the Roosters.
But it’s how their Origin platoon return from NSW-Queensland duties that will have a say in their fortunes against the Eels. Coach Ivan Cleary rested his halves, lock Isaah Yeo, and utility Kurt Capewell against the Sharks and lost a close one 19-18.
The Sharks were not in the top eight back then but the Eels are – sitting in third spot, or one win and one position below the Panthers.
Firmly in the Panthers' favour is the fact Friday night’s game is at BlueBet Stadium, where they have not lost so far this season – an impressive 8-0 home record and counting.
This is the first meeting in 2021 for these two western Sydney powerhouses.
The Eels also arrive in round 16 with a certain amount of confidence – they are chasing four wins in a row after scoring 116 points in their past three and conceding just 26. Then again the competition were bottom-eight dwellers Knights, Wests Tigers and Bulldogs.
Match: Panthers v Eels
Round 16 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Panthers: Penrith will start 1-17 with Izack Tago the 18th man.
Nathan Cleary will miss the next month due to the shoulder injury he suffered in Origin II. Blues teammate Jarome Luai has been named at halfback with Matt Burton moving from centre to five-eighth and Tyrone May coming into the centres.
Fullback Dylan Edwards (foot) is out so Charlie Staines goes to fullback and Brent Naden comes onto the wing for his first game of 2021 with Paul Momirovski (hip) and Robert Jennings (hamstring) also unavailable.
Viliame Kikau returns from a hamstring strain in the back row so Liam Martin goes to the interchange and Spencer Leniu to the reserves.
Brian To'o, Isaah Yeo and Kurt Capewell have all been named to back up from Origin II along with Luai.
Jaeman Salmon and Taylan May were omitted from the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off.
The Panthers have won 16 consecutive games at BlueBet Stadium.
Eels: In a change announced an hour before kick-off, Junior Paulo moves back to the bench with Marata Niukore named to start at prop. Will Smith is the 18th man.
Maika Sivo's return from suspension means two-try debutant Sean Russell makes way.
The other changes are on the bench where Nathaniel Roache (knee) and Keegan Hipgrave make way for Oregon Kaufusi and Bryce Cartwright.
Sean Russell and Jake Arthur dropped off the extended bench on Thusday night.
Reed Mahoney (shoulder) is unlikely to be back before round 18.
Eels prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard will play his 150th NRL game.
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Charlie StainesFullback for Eels is number 1 Clinton Gutherson
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Brent NadenWinger for Eels is number 2 Maika Sivo
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Stephen CrichtonCentre for Eels is number 3 Tom Opacic
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Tyrone MayCentre for Eels is number 4 Waqa Blake
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Eels is number 5 Haze Dunster
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Matt BurtonFive-Eighth for Eels is number 6 Dylan Brown
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Jarome LuaiHalfback for Eels is number 7 Mitchell Moses
Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses LeotaProp for Eels is number 8 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai KoroisauHooker for Eels is number 9 Joey Lussick
Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Eels is number 14 Marata Niukore
2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau2nd Row for Eels is number 11 Isaiah Papali'i
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Kurt Capewell2nd Row for Eels is number 12 Ryan Matterson
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Eels is number 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Mitch KennyInterchange for Eels is number 10 Junior Paulo
Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Scott SorensenInterchange for Eels is number 15 Shaun Lane
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Spencer LeniuInterchange for Eels is number 16 Oregon Kaufusi
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Liam MartinInterchange for Eels is number 17 Bryce Cartwright
Reserve for Panthers is number 18 Izack TagoReserve for Eels is number 19 Will Smith
- Referee: Ashley Klein
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Todd Smith
- Senior Review Official: Henry Perenara
Junior Paulo v James Fisher-Harris: If the Eels big man is able to back up from Origin, his tussle in the middle with Fisher-Harris will be a beauty. But, if not, former Panther Reagan Campbell-Gillard trying to contain former pack partners like Fisher-Harris, Moses Leota, Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin will mean a hectic evening for him.
Between them, Panthers duo Brian To'o (3166m) and James Fisher-Harris (2643m) have carried the ball for just over 5.8km. Stephen Crichton is also in the top 10 in the NRL in this category.
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