It’s a battle between the under-achieving premiership heavyweights when the Penrith Panthers host the Canberra Raiders at Carrington Park in Bathurst on Saturday evening. The Panthers are coming off a massive 38-0 win over the Bulldogs last weekend, while Canberra went down to a Daly Cherry-Evans field goal in extra time against Manly. Both sides are on 12 competition points, with only 23 points of for and against separating the two teams.

LAST TIME OUT

These sides last met in an elimination semi final last season, which was the last game the Panthers played in 2016. The score line read 22-12 to the Raiders, in a memorable night for the green machine. The Canberra based side built up a lead of 18-0 by the 45th minute, but found themselves in a 6-point contest after tries to Tyrone Peachey and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 59th and 65th minutes respectively. However it was a night for the nations capital, as captain Jarrod Croker slotted 2 penalty goals before fulltime to solidify the Raiders victory, and end the Panthers season. Penrith will be on the look out for revenge this weekend.

 

KEY BATTLE

We often talk about the halves as the most important members of a rugby league team, and this game will highlight that. The 6 and 7 for both sides will need to be on the ball for the entire 80 minutes, directing their teams with their kicking and passing games. The solid Canberra combination of Blake Austin and Aiden Sezer have somewhat under-performed this season. Combined they’ve scored 6 tries and set up 8 in 13 games. Penrith are still developing their combination in the halves, with former fullback Matt Moylan making the switch to five-eighth. Halfback Nathan Cleary will need to continue his dominance in order to make Moylan’s transition smoother, and take the pressure off his ball playing. Both teams have a capable forward pack and talented outside backs, so it will be the role of the halves to direct their side to victory.

PREDICTION

I don’t believe we’ve seen the best of either side yet in 2017. It will be a close battle yet again this weekend, and tipping a clear winner is no easy task. The Raiders put in a resilient effort last round against the Sea Eagles, but failed to take the win. The Panthers may have found a patch of form, and with powerhouse winger Josh Mansour a game better off this season, I have to take the Penrith side. – Panthers by 4.

SQUADS

Panthers team: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Rein 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 17. Viliame Kikau 18. Sitaleki Akauola 19. Stone Katoa 20. Moses Leota 21. Peta Hiku

Raiders team: 1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Junior Paulo 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. Josh Papalii 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Luke Bateman 14. Adam Clydsdale 15. Royce Hunt 16. Clay Priest 17. Joseph Tapine 18. Scott Sorensen 19. Brent Naden 20. Dave Taylor 21. Kurt Baptiste