ROUND 8 v Cronulla Sharks @ Remondis Stadium, Saturday 26th Apr @ 12:40PM
The Penrith Panthers are back after the week’s bye having won four in a row including wins over the top three sides along the way & will be looking for win number 5 in a row when they take on their nemesis, the Cronulla Sharks, who themselves are back in form after two big wins over Manly & Newtown, this Saturday afternoon at Remondis Stadium. This game represents a grand final replay of sorts given the Panthers then feeder club, the Windsor Wolves played the Sharks in last year’s grand final decider & will be clash not to be missed given it’s the main lead-up game to the NRL clash.
In their latest match, a 22-14 win over the Tigers a fortnight back, the Panthers were given a tough workout by a youthful Tigers outfit & will need to be at their best versus a side chock full of experience & flair in the Sharks, given they are the defending premiers & will be primed for this clash.
Tale Of The Tape:
In 2013, through Penrith’s then feeder club, the Windsor Wolves, these two teams met on four occasions with the Sharks winning on 3 of those 4 occasions but it was the Wolves who prevailed at Remondis Stadium in the major qualifying final hence coach Garth Brennan will be buoyed knowing they have won there in the past. Depending on a results a win over the Sharks could see the Panthers go top of the table, while a loss could see them slip back to 8th position. This game could well be an early preview of this year’s grand final such is the quality of these two teams when they are at their best.
The Panthers have been hit by injuries heading into this game, but have named a strong 19 man squad, including 9 players with NRL experience. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returns to the fullback role in a backline reshuffle caused by an injury suffered by Wes Naiqama that is expected to keep the Fijian centre sidelined for 4 weeks. Holden Cup premiership player Waqa Blake has been named in the centres & is the 7th player to be given a NSW Cup debut by coach Garth Brennan in 2014. Will Smith will partner Isaac John in the halves in place of Luke Capewell who may well have suffered a re-occurrence of the toe injury that delayed his start to the season. With Matt Robinson elevated to the NRL squad, Anthony Cherrington makes a welcome return to the starting side in the back row while Nathan Smith joins him in place of Tyrone Peachey, allowing Reagan Campbell-Gillard to start in the front row. Coach Brennan also welcomes back Vaipuna Tia Kilifi from injury suffered in the trials having been named on an extended bench.
The team is as follows:
1. DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK 2. ETO NABULI 3. ISAAH YEO 4. WAQA BLAKE 5. KEVIN NAIQAMA
6. WILL SMITH 7. ISAAC JOHN 8. SAM ANDERSON 9. KIERRAN MOSELEY
10. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD 11. ANTHONY CHERRINGTON 12. NATHAN SMITH
13. RYAN SIMPKINS
INTERCHANGE: 14. LEILANI LATU 15. DANIEL FOSTER 16. MITCH CLARK 17. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI
18. LIAM AYOUB 19. TOM EISENHUTH (TWO TO BE OMITTED)
COACH: GARTH BRENNAN
For the Sharks, they have named a very strong side & having been boosted by the inclusions of Michael Lichaa & Tupou Sopoaga contain a squad with 13 players with NRL experience including ex-Panthers Travis Robinson & Junior Moors will no doubt be the toughest test faced by the Panthers this season to date.
The team is as follows:
1. NATHAN GARDNER 2. JACOB GAGAN 3. TRAVIS ROBINSON 4. KURT MANN 5. NATHAN STAPLETON
6. BEN HAMPTON 7. DANIEL HOLDSWORTH 8. MATT PRIOR 9. MICHAEL LICHAA 10. DAVID FIFITA
11. JUNIOR MOORS 12. JUNIOR ROQICA 13. TUPOU SOPOAGA
INTERCHANGE: 14. PAT POLITONI 15. TIM ROBINSON 16. JOSH PORTLOCK 17. MICHAEL MORRIS
18. MARK MEXICO 20. PENANI MANUMALEALII 25. SIONE MASIMA (THREE TO BE OMITTED)
COACH TONY HERMAN
Key Match Ups:
The Sharks match up well against the Panthers & will no doubt be the toughest test in some time for the Panthers given there is plenty of experience to go with the young talent that is coming through their ranks. The Sharks traditionally get up for this clash having won 3 of the last 4 & will be keen to re-assert their premiership credentials over the current premiership favourites.
There are some great match-ups this week that will determine the outcome of this game:
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak v Nathan Gardner
A current star in the making with Dallin Watene-Zeleniak goes up against one-time wonder kid, Nathan Gardner’s whose first grade career at the Sharks has stalled for some time through injury & the arrival of Michael Gordon. Gardner at his best will be a tough opponent for a kid many tout as the best Penrith junior since Brad Fittler, having recently debuted in the NRL despite being just 19.
Waqa Blake v Travis Robinson
Young Panthers centre Waqa Blake will make a tough debut in the NSW Cup lining up against a former team mate in Travis Robinson & will need to be at his best to ensure the Sharks speedster doesn’t get the better of him. Travis Robinson will no doubt have a point to prove after being allowed to the sign with the Melbourne Storm after a break through 2013 season that saw him debut in the NRL & score some scorching tries along the way.
Kierran Moseley v Michael Lichaa
A massive matchup here with two of the best up & coming hookers squaring off against one another. A points victory here for Moseley will secure selection for the Qld Under 20’s team but will need to step up his form against a hooker many rate as the next big thing in the NRL hooking ranks & will be keen to prove to his current employers, why they should not have let him sign a lucrative deal with the Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Back Row
This is where the game will be won & lost – the abilities of Cherrington, Smith & Simpkins to shut down Cronulla’s explosive back row combination of Moors, Roqica & Sopoaga on the fringes will be crucial to the Panthers chances of getting the win. Moors particularly has a history of firing up for this clash & often reserves his best footy against his junior club as best shown by his powerhouse performance in last year’s grand final.
Easily the toughest clash for the Panthers in the past month & win at Remondis Stadium will be a massive boost for their confidence. The Panthers boast the best defensive record in the NSW Cup but will need to be at their best against a highly potent Sharks backline & back row. The bye along with some key injuries may well have come at a bad time for the Panthers & for that reason I reluctantly pick the Sharks to win by 10.