ROUND 14 v ILLAWARRA CUTTERS @ SportingBet Stadium, Saturday 14th June @ 3:10PM
The 1st placed Penrith Panthers are looking for their 7th win in a row having won 10 of their last 11 games when they take on a Illawarra Cutters outfit that went so close to causing a major upset two weeks back before going down 19-18 & their confidence will be renewed having put an end to a 3 game losing streak when they came from behind to defeat Cronulla 23-22 last Saturday.
The Panthers although likely to go into this game as heavy favourites will need to improve on their recent efforts against the Cutters & the Roos to make it 7 wins on the trot this week.
Tale Of The Tape:
This is the second meeting between the two sides in 2014, with the Cutters keen to reverse the Round 12 result which was played in atrocious conditions down south.
The Cutters’ return to the winners circle last week sees them in 5th spot on 17 points, just 1 point behind 4th placed Mounties & will be keen to keep in touch with the top 4 with a win here. The Panthers on the other hand will continue to set the benchmark for 2014 if they defeat Illawarra with a season best 7 wins in a row in the process. A win will see them maintain their spot at the top of the ladder quite possibly alongside Wentworthville but a loss on the other hand could see them slip as low as 3rd position should Wentworthville win (3rd placed Wests Tigers have the bye) so there is plenty to play for both sides.
As far as for & against records are concerned, the Panthers are the 3rd best team in attack averaging 29 point per game while their defence is the best in the competition, conceding under 19 points per game. The Cutters are now slouches either averaging 26 points per game (6th) but their game is built on defence where they have conceded just 21 points per game (3rd).
In terms of experience the Panthers have it all over the Cutters with the Cutters fielding 5 players with NRL experience with just 98 games between them while the Panthers have 11 players fielding a combined experience total of some 583 games.
This also marks the first game for Scott Logan to step up into the head coaching role with Ian Millward now appointed as Paul McGregor’s assistant coach for the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Coach Garth Brennan gets a massive inclusion in his team this week with the return from injury of hooker & Panthers co-captain Kevin Kingston which is a timely boost for the Panthers given Kierran Moseley has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. Brennan also welcomes back Reagan Campbell-Gillard which tempers the news that captain Nathan Smith is out for up to 4 weeks with a back injury. Exciting young prospect Waqa Blake also returns in the centres. Blake was originally named to replace Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who was to be back playing first grade as a replacement for David Simmons who has been ruled out for up to 8 weeks with a knee injury but the Panthers NRL side have suffered a further set back with news the young winger was suspended for an eye-gouging incident that took place in last Saturday’s torrid win over Wyong. A replacement is yet to be named but don’t be surprised if Kevin Naiqama gets the call up to first grade with Tom Eisenhuth the possible replacement on the wing. Liam Ayoub has also been added to the bench while former State of Origin prop, Tim Grant has again been named to play in the NSW Cup for the Panthers.
The team is as follows:
1. KIERAN MOSS 2. ETO NABULI 3. WAQA BLAKE 4. WES NAIQAMA 5. KEVIN NAIQAMA
6. WILL SMITH 7. TOM HUMBLE 8. SAM ANDERSON 9. KEVIN KINGSTON 10. TIM GRANT
11. BEN MURDOCH-MASILA 12. MATT ROBINSON 13. RYAN SIMPKINS
INTERCHANGE: 14. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI 16. SHAUN SPENCE 17. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD
18. LIAM AYOUB 22. ANTHONY CHERRINGTON (1 to Omit)
COACH: GARTH BRENNAN
For the Cutters, new head coach Scott Logan has to confront the competition leaders minus the likes of Sam Williams (released – ESL), Michael Witt (ACL – season), Charly Runciman, Craig Garvey & Jack De Belin (all in first grade). Shane Pumipi although named on a five man bench in first grade may find his way back to the NSW Cup side. However Nathan Green, who has been named may well be a late withdrawal as speculation mounts over his immediate future with a move to the Cronulla Sharks on the cards. Ex-Panther Geoff Daniela returns to face his former club for the second time in 2 weeks & will be joined by the likes of Junior Tia-Kilifi (up against brother Vaipuna Tia Kilifi for the 4th time) & Shannon Wakeman, all no doubt keen to atone for losing their last game against their former club so expect plenty of fireworks.
The team is as follows:
1. JASON RAPER 2. KITI GLYMIN 3. GEOFF DANIELA 4. NATHAN GREEN 5. TYRON CRANSTON
6. SAM DUGGAN 7. KYLE EATHER 8. MATT GROAT 9. JOEL JOHNSON 10. RORY O’BRIEN
11. WILLIE MATAKA 12. JUNIOR TIA-KILIFI 13. SHANNON WAKEMAN
INTERCHANGE: 15. JOSH AILAOMAI 16. CHRIS LEWIS 17. CHARLIE FAINGAA 22. DYLAN STRICKLAND
COACH: SCOTT LOGAN
Key Match Ups:
The Panthers when you look across the teams named look to have too much class for what will no doubt be a fired up Illawarra Cutters side given the experience at disposal. However the Cutters proved they were more than a match for the Panthers last start having led for the majority of the game before going down to the Tom Humble field goal. Garth Brennan again will be looking for a far more disciplined performance from his side too given they have been soundly beaten in the penalty counts in their last 4 games along with the fact they have now paid the price at the judiciary with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s suspension.
The Panthers boasts plenty of experience with no less than 11 players having played in the NRL. The Cutters have just 5 players with NRL experience but have named a side that turns up committed to playing to their best abilities each & every week. Sam Williams’ departure to the Catalan Dragons is a massive blow considering they have also lost Michael Witt to a season ending ACL knee injury.
Nonetheless there are some great match-ups this week that will determine the outcome of this game:
Blake v Daniela
The young gun from the Panthers up against the experienced & Cutters most potent attacking back who will no doubt be champing at the bit to take Blake to school in this clash just to show his former club why he shouldn’t have been released. That said Waqa has impressed many in his limited appearances to date against some very good opposing centres & will relish the challenge once more.
Nabuli v Glymin
The Fijian Flyer has been back to his best in recent times having scored 9 tries in 9 games to go with with his 29 tries in just 26 games last year. Nabuli comes up against the impressive looking Yiti Glymin who has done well in his first season in the NSW Cup since coming from the Holden Cup having scored 6 tries & can play at fullback as well as wing.
The Panthers get a second consecutive home game & will feature as part of a 3 game program that will feature the Panthers NRL clash v the Dragons & will be televised live on Fox Sports as well as broadcast live by Hawkesbury Radio 89.9 FM. Their timeslot will be before first grade so they will enjoy some decent home town support for a change.
The Panthers are entitled to be hot favourites but need to play the game for the eighty minutes as their lapses in concentration & discipline in recent weeks having nearly resulted in losses to the Cutters & the Roos. The Cutters do look somewhat weakened from the side that took the Panthers to the wire two weeks back & for this reason I’m tipping the Panthers to win this one by 14 points.