ROUND 9 v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS @ Cessnock Sports Ground, Saturday 10th May @ 5:00PM
The 4th placed Penrith Panthers earned arguably their best win of the season last week despite being severely undermanned compared to their opponents, the NZ Warriors but go into this match with the show on the other foot so to speak facing 5th placed Newcastle Knights that might be down on troops but definitely won’t down on spirit. Penrith’s task will be made even tougher by the fact that the road trip to Cessnock on a cold Saturday night arguably represents the toughest road trip in the NSW Cup given the Knights have only been beaten once in the past 2 years at home.
It promises to be the game of the round given coach Rick Stone will be eager to getting his troops back on track particularly in defence after last week’s lost to table topping Wentworthville while his former coaching staff colleague Garth Brennan will be eager to get his first win over Stone in three attempts. Add in the fact that former Knights Kevin Naiqama, Will Smith & Sam Anderson lineup for the Panthers & you have the makings of what could be a very explosive clash.
Tale Of The Tape:
Back in Round 1, a very different looking Penrith side lost at home 24-14 to the Newcastle Knights but since then the Panthers have won 5 of their last 6 to sit in the top 4 while Newcastle have struggled at times to maintain week to week consistency. However while Penrith has 10 players with NRL experience compared to Newcastle’s 5, coach Rick Stone always seems to have his troops prepared for these clashes having won 3 of the past 4 games between the two teams.
The Panthers enjoy a slight overall for & against advantage over the Knights due largely to their superior defensive record – 152 points conceded vs 216 by the Knights, thou the Knights have outscored the Panthers 267 to 214 points. Will Smith (6), Kevin Naiqama (5) & Sam Anderson (4) lead the way for the Panthers in tries scored while Chanel Mata’utia (8), P Mata’utia (5), Mantellato (5) & Ross (5) top the try scorers list for the Knights.
Head to Head in the goal kicking department, Mantellato has kicked 26 from 38 attempts while Will Smith has kicked 11 from 18 attempts.
Depending on results a win for either side could see them go top of the table but a loss could easily mean either team slips back to 8th position.
The Panthers welcome back a plethora of players from last week’s rep rounds. Kieran Moss returns to make his first start of the season at fullback which sees Luke Capewell back in the halves with Daniel Foster moving back to the bench. Eto Nabuli & Kevin Naiqama return to their wing spots, while Isaah Yeo also returns from injury in the centres which allows Garth Brennan the luxury of moving Nathan Smith & Tom Eisenhuth back to an extended bench. Isaac John replaces Liam Ayoub in the halves while Murdoch-Masila having made his debut for the Panthers last week from the bench, starts in place of Matt Robinson, having been promoted to the first grade squad. Reagan Campbell-Gillard also returns from rep duty meaning Leilani Latu goes back to the bench. Bryce Cartwright who starred last week coming off the bench retains his bench spot.
The team is as follows:
1. KIERAN MOSS 2. ETO NABULI 3. ISAAH YEO 4. WILL SMITH 5. KEVIN NAIQAMA 6. LUKE CAPEWELL
7. ISAAC JOHN 8. SAM ANDERSON 9. KIERRAN MOSELEY 10. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD
11. BEN MURDOCH-MASILA 12. ANTHONY CHERRINGTON 13. RYAN SIMPKINS
14. NATHAN SMITH 15. DANIEL FOSTER 16. BRYCE CARTWRIGHT 17. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI
18. LEILANI LATU 19. LIAM AYOUB 20. TOM EISENHUTH (3 TO OMIT)
COACH: GARTH BRENNAN
For the Knights, coach Rick Stone has been forced into calling up some of the Knights under 20’s players with the likes of Hayden Smith, Tama Koopu & Tom Shearman all called up to take their place on a five man interchange bench that sees a reshuffle to the Knights starting pack missing Matt Hilder & improving back-rower Jeremy Siulepa. Toka Likiliki also returns via the interchange bench having missed last week’s loss to the Magpies.
The team is as follows:
1. MATT MINTO 2. JOSH MANTELLATO 3. BRAYDEN WILIAME 4. PAT MATA’UTIA
5. CHANEL MATA’UTIA 6. TYLER RANDELL 7. MICHAEL DOBSON 8. MICHAEL STEELE
9. TRAVIS WADDELL 10. PAT VAIVAI 25. JAMES ELIAS 12. DYLAN HARTIN 13. BRENTON HORWOOD
14. CHAD REDMAN 15. HAYDEN SMITH 16. TAMA KOOPU 17. TOM SHEARMAN 30. TOKA LIKILIKI
(1 TO OMIT)
COACH: RICK STONE
Key Match Ups:
The Knights regardless of who they line up on the field always match up well against the Panthers having won 3 of the past 4 games & will no doubt be primed to give the Panthers a tough task at home. The key here thou when assessing the teams now versus the Round 1, the Panthers do look stronger this time round with the inclusion of Eto Nabuli, Isaah Yeo, Luke Capewell, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Bryce Cartwright & Vaipuna Tia Kilifi. The Knights side is remarkably similar to the side that defeated the Panthers in Round 1 but with the notable inclusion of Michael Dobson & Travis Waddell.
There are some great match-ups this week that will determine the outcome of this game:
Nabuli / K Naiqama v Mantellato / C Mata’utia
With 21 tries scored between the four wingers, there is plenty of try scoring potency on the wings at the disposal of both teams. Chanel Mata’utia scored 3 of his 8 tries to date against the Panthers while the aerial dual between Nabuli & Mantellato will be worth the price of admission alone. Kevin Naiqama is relishing his partnership with Isaac John having scored the majority of his 6 tries in combination with the Kiwi international.
John v Dobson
Who says international players aren’t picked from the NSW Cup after Isaac John’s shock selection to play in the Kiwi’s test team against the Kangaroos last Friday night. A dose of reality awaits John returning to the NSW Cup where he comes up against another seasoned performer in Michael Dobson. Both halves played in the English Super League & both are relishing in the opportunities afforded to them since their return to the NRL.
Kierran Moseley v Travis Waddell
Another learning curve for a hooker on the rise in Kierran Moseley who returns to the side having played his second game in successive years for the Queensland Under 20’s origin side last Saturday. His task doesn’t get much easier this week lining up against the experienced Travis Waddell who will need to shirk much of the Knights defensive workload given Matt Hilder’s promotion to first grade.
The Panthers having won impressively despite being the outsiders to win last start are arguably overwhelming favourites at least on paper going into this week’s clash. However the Knights defend their home turf just about better than anyone else in the NSW Cup having lost just once at home in the past 2 years & won’t be easy opponents on a cold Saturday night in Cessnock. It’s the competition’s 3rd best attack vs the 2nd best defence. Coach Garth Brennan has been yearning for another chance to get one up over his former coaching ally in Rick Stone & will have his team primed for a grand final effort against the Knights. Equally the Knights will be better in preparation for this week’s game having last week’s build up disrupted by Stone’s commitments with Fiji. Don’t be fooled by the 2 to 1 advantage to the Panthers in terms of NRL experienced players as this will be a hard fought & extremely close contest. However having said that the Panthers inclusions for the return game do tip the scales in their favour and accordingly I tip the Panthers by 8.