Maintaining the winning formula will be Penrith’s objective when host Manly Sea Eagles in the final preliminary round match at Pepper Stadium on Sunday night.

It looks certain the Panthers will face western rivals Canterbury Bulldogs in week 1 of the finals series.  A win here would give them five on the trot, a feat the club hasn’t achieved since 2014.

For Manly it’s pride on the line as Lewis Brown and coach Trent Barrett return to Penrith for the first time as an opposition side since they departed at the end of last year.

LAST TIME OUT

Penrith Panthers faced Gold Coast Titans in a round 25 blockbuster at CBUS Super Stadium.  The winner confirming their spot in this year’s final series.  It was Penrith who dominated the first forty minutes with tries to Waqa Blake and captain Matt Moylan giving their side a 14-0 advantage going into the sheds.  They came out nervous in the second half and by the admission of Anthony Griffin post game, Penrith played poorly the last forty.  When Greg Bird scored and Tyrone Roberts converted a penalty goal with five to go it looked like the Titans had the game to win.  Tyrone Peachey’s break in the final moments let to Moylan kicking the winning field goal and Penrith claiming four straight with a 15-14 win.

Manly Sea Eagles very much similar to this weekend ran into the side who have the best winning streak in the competition right now, Canberra Raiders.  It was a tough afternoon for the home side with Nate Myles and Jorge Taufua injured during the game.  Tom Trjobevic once again established himself as Manly’s 2017 full-time fullback with a hat-trick despite going down 44-30 in the high scoring Saturday afternoon fixture.  In doing so the other top 4 finals sides might have got a few pointers to combat the Raiders defence come the week 1.

KEY BATTLES

Dylan Walker’s battle with Tyrone Peachey will be one of the key battles on Sunday night. Walker tore apart the Panthers when the two sides last met at Brookvale Oval, a game where two first half tries gave the Sea Eagles a 24-4 lead.

Peachey had a sensational game last weekend in helping Penrith to victory.  Since being forced to play centre, Peachey has found the form that made him one of the most dangerous small players in the game during 2014.

Keep an eye of the battle of the two halves Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary.  When Cleary last played the Sea Eagles he was playing his second NRL match.  With more experience under his belt expect a bigger impact from Cleary, especially testing Tom Trjobevic at the back with towering kicks.  The type Corey Oates and Jordan Rankin have struggled with in previous games.

Cherry-Evans will be looking for a strong finish after a disappointing season where he’s struggled through injury and missing former halves partner Kieran Foran.  He was excellent for the Sea Eagles last weekend in scoring one try with four try assists against the Raiders.

PREDICTION

Penrith have a good attitude towards footy at the moment and with momentum going into the finals will be hard to beat.  Expect the Panthers to play their full side despite knowing where they stand by the time kick-off comes around.  A good chance for Suaia Matagi to cement a starting prop position after Reagan Campbell-Gillard’s back injury.  Manly will be competitive but have little to play for.

Panthers by 14

SQUADS

Panthers: 1 Matthew Moylan 2 Joshua Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Tyrone Peachey 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6 Bryce Cartwright 7 Nathan Cleary 8 Leilani Latu 9 Peter Wallace 10 Suaia Matagi 11 Isaah Yeo 12 James Fisher-Harris 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14 Sitaleki Akauola 15 Jeremy Latimore 16 Christopher Grevsmuhl 17 Zak Hardaker 20 Moses Leota

Sea Eagles: 1 Tom Trbojevic 2 Jorge Taufua 3 Dylan Walker 4 Matthew Wright 5 Brayden Wiliame 6 Apisai Koroisau 7 Daly Cherry-Evans 8 Addin Fonua-Blake 9 Matt Parcell 10 Nate Myles 11 Martin Taupau 12 Jamie Buhrer 13 Jake Trbojevic Interchange: 14 Blake Leary 15 Joshua Starling 16 Lewis Brown 17 Siosaia Vave