Local Penrith product Craig Gower returns to Centrebet Stadium for the first time since coming back to the NRL with Newcastle as they face the Panthers this Sunday.
Gower played 238 games for the club and led the Panthers to their second NRL title in 2003 against the Sydney Roosters on a history making night for the western Sydney club. At age 35 he joins Bennett’s dad’s army that includes Jeremy Smith (33), Willie Mason (33) and Danny Buderus (35) as being named in the eighteen man Knights squad for this weekend. The last time Gower played at Centrebet Stadium was on September 1 2007 when 14,000 fans bid him farewell, as the Panthers went down to New Zealand Warriors 24-20. I’m sure there will be mixed emotions on Sunday for both Gowie and the Panthers die-hard supporters.
Ivan Cleary has his work cut out again following the withdrawals of Nigel Plum and Matt Robinson from his Panthers team to take on Newcastle Knights this Sunday at Centrebet Stadium. Robinson (neck) and Plum (shoulder) join the likes of Sika Manu, Lachlan Coote, Blake Austin and Sam McKendry in the casualty ward, watching from the sidelines as Penrith aim for their fourth consecutive win. Interestingly enough Robinson suffered a neck injury in the Panthers last clash against the Knights in the 6-8 loss in Newcastle. In good news Ryan Simpkins and Jeremy Latimore return to the squad. Latimore possesses good offloading skills and is a like for like replacement for Robinson.
Newcastle’s form on the road hasn’t been great in 2013 recording two wins in eight outings. Their last outing was victory against the Bulldogs on the road at Mackay which elevated James McManus into the New South Wales Origin side for the deciding game. McManus has been a shining light in the Knights side having crossed sixteen times in sixteen games. This Knights backline boasts Darius Boyd and Akuila Uate but sadly Uate’s impact has been missing for some time now. You get the feeling they will rely on the Mason’s, Buderus’ and Smith’s to grind out victory.
Penrith’s best chance to win the game is to play the game out wide. Dean Whare has grown in confidence each game he partners Dave Simmons out wide, and James Roberts is converting his opportunities which was rewarded with a contract extension earlier this week. The Panthers will rely on Luke Walsh and Isaac John providing quality ball and the forward back to not take a backwards step against the Knights. In front of a home crowd and with a five win-three loss record at Centrebet, these games are crucial to win if the Panthers want to play finals footy.
The winner of this game has a chance to break away from the logjam between sixth place and eleventh. Despite the Panthers flat performance against the Eels coming off the back of their Titans win in the heat in Darwin, they might have the younger fresher legs at the back end of the game to win. The best chance the Knights have to win their third away victory of 2013 is to play this one in the forwards and suck the life out of the Panthers.