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VB NSW Cup Preview: Panthers v Knights

#VBNSWCUP MATCH PREVIEW

ROUND 1 v Newcastle Knights @ SportingBet Stadium, Saturday 8th Mar @ 2:10PM

Two of the competition’s heavyweights square off in Round 1 action when Penrith Panthers debut in the NSW Cup in their own right when they take on the Newcastle Knights.

In 2013, Newcastle won both games versus the Panthers’ then feeder club, Windsor Wolves 42-28 & 38-36 but the Wolves won the one that mattered most, winning 36-32 against the Knights in the preliminary final at Leichhardt Oval.

There is plenty of rivalry between both these teams both on & off the field with ex-Knight Sam Anderson joined in 2014 by Will Smith & Kevin Naiqama who will both be keen to notch up a win against their old team mates. Rick Stone comes up against ex Newcastle Knights & Panthers NYC premiership coach Garth Brennan, with Rick currently enjoying a 1-0 winning record over the Panthers NSW Cup, hence Garth Brennan in his first full season as NSW Cup coach is under no illusion as to how tough getting the win first up will be.

Tale Of The Tape:

As expected both teams have seen plenty of roster changes over the off-season. Penrith has seen the likes of Geoff Daniela, Travis Robinson, Blake Austin, Cameron Ciraldo, Kyle O’Donnell, Neecrom Areaiiti, Blake South & Josh Butfield move elsewhere but equally replaced by Kevin Naiqama, Will Smith, Shaun Spence & Leilani Latu. Newcastle has also seen plenty of experience move elsewhere with the likes of Peter Mata’utia, Adrian Davis, Siuatonga Likiliki & Dylan Smith joining former team mates & new Panther recruits Kevin Naiqama & Will Smith in moving on for the 2014 season. Brayden Willeme is valuable acquisition from the Parramatta Eels while Matt Minto has made the move south from the Qld Cup.

Penrith has suffered an injury crisis of epic proportions during the off season, with Kieran Moss, Eto Nabuli, George Jennings, Wes Naiqama, Luke Capewell, Anthony Cherrington, Tom Humble, Vaipuna Tia Kilifi & Ethan Cook all unavailable. Nonetheless, the Panthers have still announced a very strong side, a credit to the off field management of their playing roster that still allows experienced NRL players Isaac John, Matt Robinson, Nathan Smith, Ryan Simpkins to take their place in this side. Furthermore the side features 6 players who played in the premiership winning Panthers Holden Cup squad, four of whom played NSW Cup in 2013 under Garth Brennan – Isaah Yeo, Kierran Moseley, Daniel Foster & Reagan Campbell Gillard while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak & Michael Ross are set to make their NSW Cup debuts.

The team is as follows:

1. Dallin WATENE-ZELEZNIAK 2. Kevin NAIQAMA 3. Isaah YEO 4. Tom EISENHUTH 5. Eddie AIONO

6. Will SMITH 7. Isaac JOHN 8. Sam ANDERSON 9. Kierran MOSELEY 10. Shaun SPENCE

11. Matt ROBINSON 12. Nathan SMITH 13. Ryan SIMPKINS

INTERCHANGE:

14. Reagan CAMPBELL-GILLARD 15. Daniel FOSTER 16. Leilani LATU 17. Michael ROSS

18. Liam AYOUB 19. Sakeo DIBECI (two to be omitted)

COACH:  Garth BRENNAN

Newcastle have also suffered their own setbacks during the pre-season with Timana Tahu, Chris Adams, former Panther Clint Newton, Zane Tetevano, Joseph Tapine & Adam Clydesdale all unavailable. Whilst Rick Stone has been forced to name a largely inexperienced side for Saturday’s clash he still has some decent players to call upon. Key recruits Brayden Willeme, Matt Minto have been named to debut for the club, while utility player Tyler Randall will play in the no. 6 jersey given another recruit Michael Dobson has been called up to NRL duties given the serious injury to Jarrod Mullen. With the likes of Josh Mantellato, Pat & Chanel Mata’utia, Matt Hilder, Korbin Sims & Toka Likiliki named in the side, the Knights will be anything but pushovers.

The team is as follows:

1. Honeti TUHA 2. Josh MANTELLATO 3.                 Brayden WILLEME 4. Pat MATA’UTIA 5. Chanel MATA’UTIA

6. Tyler RANDALL 7. Matt MINTO 30. Toka LIKILIKI 9. Chad REDMAN 10. Paterika VAI VAI

11. Korbin SIMS 12. Jeremy SIULEPA 13. Matt HILDER

INTERCHANGE:

14. James ELIAS 15. Brenton HORWOOD 16. Ben TUPOU 27. Reggie SAUNDERS

COACH:  Rick STONE

Key Match Ups:

Between both teams 12 players (8 Penrith & 4 Newcastle) have played in the NRL at some point in their careers hence there is no shortage of experience & skill on both sides. There are plenty of match ups all over the field to look forward to but here are the key match ups:

Will Smith / Isaac John v Tyler Randall / Matt Minto

On paper Will Smith & the NRL experienced Isaac John look too strong & classy over a new halves pairing in utility Tyler Randall & Matt Minto but be warned, Tyler Randall is a vastly underrated player who played well for Newcastle in 2013 while Matt Minto comes to Newcastle with plenty of wraps from the QLD Cup & together these two Knights will be looking for a points victory over a high profile pairing early on in the season to boost their confidence. Equally Will Smith will be looking to show his former club why he should have been retained by the Knights while the man they call “Ice” will be looking for a big game to keep the pressure on first grade recruits Jamie Soward & Peter Wallace.

Nathan Smith v Korbin Sims

The wily veteran, Nathan Smith, will collide head on with the young up & coming bull Korbin Sims whose breakthrough 2013 season culminated with an impressive showing in the World Cup for Fiji as well as making his NRL debut. The brother of Ashton & Tariq Sims made a habit of breaking the defensive line close to opposition try lines thus it will take all of Smith’s experience & guile particularly in defence to keep Sims quiet.

Sam Anderson v Toka Likiliki

Ex-Knights props “Slamming” Sam Anderson will be looking for a performance in keeping with his stellar 2013 season that culminated with selection in both the NSW Residents & NSW Cup team of the year, making his NRL debut & being named Windsor Wolves player of the year. Toka Likiliki was at his explosive best in 2013 & will be relied upon by Rick Stone to lead the largely inexperienced Knights pack from the front with his powerhouse running game.

The Verdict

There are good reasons why both teams can win this game but even with the vast injury toll suffered by the Panthers going into the start of the season, the ability to field a side that still contains 8 players with NRL experienced coupled with exciting Holden Cup premiership winning players who had a decent taste of NSW Cup in 2013, might be just enough to overcome a determined Knights side that is perhaps a little low on experience but still contains plenty of class & ability nonetheless.

Two of the three games last year were decided by 4 points or less & in what should be a warm afternoon in Sydney’s golden west it won’t surprise if there is a similar winning margin in this game with perhaps a total of 65-70 points on offer in keeping with the high scoring games from 2013.

I tip Penrith by 4 but a Knights win won’t surprise first up.

The game is being shown live on Fox Sports with coverage commencing from 2pm for a 2:10pm kick-off, while Hawkesbury Radio 89.9FM will be live calling the game from the interactive studio. Streaming is available on www.hawkesburyradio.com.au

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