An injury ravaged Penrith Panthers will head up the M1 to take on the inconsistent Newcastle Knights, with both sides coming off last round defeats they’ll be desperate to avoid consecutive losses.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
After courageous victories over the Tigers and Sea Eagles Nathan Brown’s Knights were brought back down to earth by the Rabbitohs last round, Newcastle were blown off the park early and the frustration from Brown was clear in the post match press conference as he lamented his sides poor start. Brown would feel its a case of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ for the Knights after showing signs of improvement in defence of late only to be ripped apart by the rampant South Sydney side.
Penrith have been one of the better teams so far in season 2018 as their position on the ladder indicates, but a mounting injury list seems to be starting to take its toll on the side after losing two of their last three matches and only just squeezing past a struggling Bulldogs side. Anthony Griffin would be happy with the way his side is playing but knows anymore injuries could send his sides’ season on a downwards spiral.
Nathan Brown has wielded the axe this week making four changes to his side from last week including dropping co-captain Jamie Burger to the reserves. Forwards Jake Saifiti and Jacob Lillyman seem to have paid the price for the Knights’ middle defensive issues as they both made way for Josh King and Luke Yates who are seen as better defenders. Brock Lamb has also won a recall despite being dropped three weeks ago and missing last weeks’ ISP Premiership match due to injury, Lamb’s strong goal kicking and general play kicking have won him a recall after the Knights struggled in these areas of late.
Penrith have also made a couple of changes although in contrast to the Knights form hasn’t been an issue for Griffin’s men, but more injuries and a suspension to young forward Jack Hetherington have forced their hand once again. Jarome Luai is named to make his debut off the bench for Hetherington whilst Trent Merrin has been named to start at prop for the injured Moses Leota, Merrin suffered a shocking compound fracture to his finger in the warm up before last week’s game and is a surprise inclusion. Doubts still remain over Merrin and Centre Isaah Yeo who is battling a rib issue.
This will be the first meeting between these two sides for season 2018 after Penrith won both encounters last year, Penrith will look to continue their recent dominance over Newcastle having not lost to the Knights since 2015. As mentioned Penrith have been flying this season despite their injury issues but after losing a couple more players from last week the Knights will be looking to take advantage of the wounded Panthers.
Much like Newcastle were Penrith also got blown off the park early against the Cowboys, this has become a recurring problem for Griffin’s side after falling behind early in seven of their nine matches this season, Newcastle will have identified this as a weakness for Penrith and will know a good start could see them shoot out to an early lead, but they’ll have to be wary of the ‘comeback kings’ as Penrith have staged second half comebacks numerous times this season.
Penrith will know Newcastle are the worst middle defensive team in the competition and will be looking to ‘in form’ forwards Reagan Campbell-Gillard and James Fisher-Harris to target the Knights through the middle. Winning the middle exchanges will be crucial to either side winning this match. Penrith will also look to run plenty of traffic at Brock Lamb after his struggles in defence earlier this season.
Although they’re not marking up against each other the key battle in this match is between Knights’ wiz kid Kayln Ponga and Panthers’ mercurial halfback James Maloney. Both players have had splendid seasons to date and have come up with match winning performances on more than one occasion this season. With little to split these two sides a match winning play from either Ponga or Maloney could decide who takes home the two competition points.
Penrith have won their last four matches against Newcastle, a win on Friday night will give the Panthers’ their longest ever winning streak over the Knights.
Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Nathan Ross, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Brock Lamb, 8 Herman Ese’ese, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Josh King, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Mitchell Barnett, 13 Aidan Guerra (c), 14 Danny Levi, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Luke Yates, 17 Daniel Saifiti, 18 Jamie Buhrer (c), 19 Jacob Saifiti, 20 Jack Cogger, 21 Cory Denniss
Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Isaah Yeo, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace (c), 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Corey Harawira-Naera, 13 James Fisher-Harris, 14 Sione Katoa, 15 Kaide Ellis, 16 James Tamou, 17 Jarome Luai, 18 Wayde Egan, 19 Nick Lui-Toso, 20 Thomas Eisenhuth, 21 Tyrone May
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday May 11th
Venue: McDonalds Jones Stadium, Newcastle
WHO WILL WIN?
As it has been the case in the majority of matches this season this game could easily go either way, Penrith have been the better side this season but they seemed to be finally starting to feel the effects of their mounting injury toll. Newcastle have played some really good football this season and will be hoping for another big home crowd to cheer them home in this game. Knights 1-12