The Sea Eagles and Panthers go head-to-head at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night, in a rematch of last week’s round 26 clash. The Sea Eagles won at Lottoland last week in convincing fashion, and will host the elimination final against a young Panthers side experiencing a minor form slip. Both sides enter the game with similar squads to last week and perfectly primed for the finals series.

Last Time Out:

The Panthers found themselves in a difficult spot after losing to the Dragons at home the previous week, as they now had to travel to Manly and beat the home side to secure sixth spot on the ladder. The Sea Eagles grabbed a win against the Warriors in New Zealand, and finishing off the season strongly at home was the perfect way to enter the finals. The game was dominated early by the Sea Eagles, who took advantage of a lacklustre Penrith side in the opening stages. Youngster Brian Kelly was massive for the Sea Eagles, scoring a try in the seventh minute after a good pass from Tom Trbojevic and a good solo run set up Daly Cherry-Evans for their second in the 23rd minute – the Sea Eagles were ahead by 10 points. The Panthers’ first opportunity to add some points went begging as a wayward Peter Wallace pass was followed by a Blake Green 40/20, to give the Sea Eagles great field position. Manly extended their advantage to 16-0 with Jake Trbojevic scoring under the posts. Manly enjoyed a healthy completion percentage (85 percent) as well as dominating the middle with five forwards all running for over 100 metres each, while Penrith only managed one.

The second half started off perfectly for the Sea Eagles. Penrith’s thin defence got worse, and Tom Trbojevic scored just 40 seconds into the half. The points continued to flow as Curtis Sironen scored in the 53rd minute, adding to Manly’s lead. With the Panthers yet to exhibit any purposeful attacking football, the 28-0 scoreline was expected to rise. The Panthers had to avoid losing by 38 points to ensure a finals place, and solid defence in the final period of the game allowed the Panthers to grab two late tries (Tyronne May and Reagan Campbell-Gillard) and cut the deficit. The final score of 28-12 did not portray the Sea Eagles’ dominance. A strong start, supported by a blistering attack for the majority of the game, completely rattled the Panthers. The win saw the Sea Eagles lock up a home week one finals game, while the Panthers were safe on their points difference compared to the Cowboys. Anthony Griffin’s men will ensure they do not enter the elimination final unprepared and get off to the best possible start.

Key Battle:

With no Matt Moylan in the halves due to injury, the Panthers will be fully reliant on the services of Nathan Cleary. On the other side, Daly Cherry-Evans has been one of the standout players in 2017, and will be an important piece in Manly’s point-scoring opportunities.

Cherry-Evans has been subjected to Manly’s downfall since 2015, unfortunately, and the episode with the Gold Coast contract talks has tarnished his image and form. Though in 2017 the Sea Eagles have managed to play some brilliant football, and Cherry-Evans has been the best player for them. He leads the competition in try assists along with Ash Taylor with 19, and his kicking game has improved so much so that he is arguably the best in the game along with Cooper Cronk, Adam Reynolds and Mitchell Pearce. If the Sea Eagles are to be a contender during the finals series, Cherry-Evans will be at the centre of that success, and assuming all goes well, his key attributes will no doubt be on full display against Penrith.

Nathan Cleary struggled to replicate his 2016 form at the start of this season, but as Penrith’s form improved, so did his. Cleary’s running game has gradually increased with the Panthers’ rise in form, going from 69 per game through their first nine games to 79 per game the next 15 games; his kicking game rose from 260 per game to 334 since round 10. With Matt Moylan’s injury depleting the Panthers for another week, it will be up to Cleary to be the workhorse at first receiver and the catalyst for giving attacking opportunities to the young and talented Penrith backline.

Prediction:

Both sides have had moments of brilliance in 2017, but had periods of patchy form. The Panthers will have to start strong, with plenty of attacking opportunities early on. Manly exploited this last week, so if it’s fixed, a more competitive game will be seen. Though with a better forward pack, and arguably a more reliable halves pairing, the Sea Eagles should have the advantage at home.

Sea Eagles by 4.

 Squad News:

Addin Fonua-Blake is expected to play for the Sea Eagles despite picking up a knee injury last week. Darcy Lussick has been suspended for the first week of the finals due to tripping, but will attempt to fight the charge at the judiciary, so could be a possible late change.

Dylan Edwards has been named on an extended bench, but is a long shot to play due to a knee injury. Dean Whare retains the number one jersey.

Squads:

Sea Eagles team: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Matthew Wright 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Darcy Lussick 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lewis Brown 15. Lloyd Perrett 16. Brenton Lawrence 17. Addin Fonua-Blake 18. Shaun Lane 19. Cameron Cullen 20. Jarrad Kennedy 21. Kelepi Tanginoa

Panthers team: 1. Dean Whare 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. James Fisher-Harris 18. Moses Leota 19. Viliame Kikau 20. Dylan Edwards 21. Jarome Luai

Pre-Game Media:

“We’ve certainly shown the last two weeks there’s plenty of fight, there’s plenty of character in this side and we won’t be making up the numbers” – Captain Daly Cherry-Evans on the Sea Eagles’ form coming into the finals series.

“We just got to draw off each other, and I guess build off each other and train as hard as we can” – Dallin Watene-Zelesniak on the Panthers’ chances against the Sea Eagles.

Match Details:

Officials – Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Adam Gee. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Belinda Sleeman.
Venue – Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Date and Kick-off time – Saturday 9th September, 7:40 pm