Tigers: Blake Austin, David Nofoaluma, Keith Lulia, Chris Lawrence, Pat Richards, Braith Anasta (c), Luke Brooks, Martin Taupau, Joel Luani, Keith Galloway, Curtis Sironen, Bodene Thompson, Adam Blair. Interchange: Dene Halatau, Ava Seumanufagai, Sitaleki Akauola, Jack Buchanan

Panthers: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, Kevin Naiqama, Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Sam McKendry, James Segeyaro, Brent Kite, Sika Manu, Elijah Taylor, Adam Docker. Interchange: Tyrone Peachey, Jeremy Latimore, Lewis Brown, Nigel Plum, Bryce Cartwright

Kevin Naiqama in, Bryce Cartwright again ‘shadow’ player

Kevin Naiqama returns to the Penrith Panthers National Rugby League side against the Wests Tigers on Sunday.  He returns after Isaah Yeo was rewarded with selection in the New South Wales Residents side to face Queensland Residents prior to State of Origin III in Brisbane next week.  Naiqama’s last game in the top grade resulted in a Panthers victory over St George-Illawarra.  Bryce Cartwright is the eighteenth man once again.  Jamie Soward has been selected in the side despite missing the second forty last weekend.  Ivan Cleary not pushing the panic button with mass changes after the Panthers went down to New Zealand Warriors 30-20 in Auckland last Sunday.

Tigers select Blake Austin at fullback in a decimated squad

Wests Tigers victory against Canberra last weekend came at a cost with James Tedesco season ending kneecap injury.  Former Panther Blake Austin will play in the number one jumper.  Austin has been good in recent weeks but plays out of position with the huge injury count in the backline.  Tedesco, Tim Moltzen and Tim Simona are notible absences from the regular Tigers side.  Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah are on Origin duty.  This Tigers side are decimated, but can’t be underestimated.

Getting the little things right

Last weekend’s loss could have been a good thing after remaining undefeated since round eleven.  There were some issues in Auckland that needed addressing.  The first that comes to mind was discipline.  Penrith were heavily penalised by the officials 11-6 with Peter Wallace sent to the sin bin with time almost up.  That was our worse performance in that department all season.  Ivan Cleary will be stressing to his players the importance of not giving away penalties and giving the opposition a piggyback down field.  Another thing the Panthers will need to address is their start.  Penrith didn’t touch the ball for the first five minutes.  Konrad Hurrell got the better of Jamal Idris in the early stages and within the first fifteen minutes the Panthers trailed by twelve and were forever playing catch-up for the rest of the game.  It’s not all doom and gloom because the commitment to fight back and take the lead into the break, and willingness to spread the ball in an attempt to win the game showed Penrith were not giving up and searching for a way to steal victory.  With better opposition coming up in the next few matches Penrith need to work on getting these little things in their game right.

Brent Kite reaches rare milestone

Brent Kite plays his 300th National Rugby League game this weekend.  Kite started his career at St George-Illawarra in 2002 before spending nine seasons at Manly where he made 221 appearances.  He represented New South Wales in State of Origin of ten occasions and ran out for Australia fourteen times and Tonga six.  Kite joined Penrith on a two year contract early last year and was seen as the player to bring big game experience as the club rebuilds.  On Sunday he will become only the twentieth player to reach the milestone joining the likes of Darren Lockyer, Steve Menzies, Brad Fittler and Nathan Hindmarsh in the elite club.  Our best wishes are with Brent Kite as he prepares for game 300.

Panthers record at Leichhardt a disadvantage

This Sunday is the twenty-seventh time Penrith have faced the Wests Tigers since their joint venture began in 2000.  Penrith have the advantage having recorded fourteen wins, the Tigers eleven, with one drawn.  The sides only having met three times at Leichhardt Oval.  In 2000, the Tigers were too good in winning 22-10.  Geoff Bell scored a double as Penrith held off the Tigers 22-18.  Most recently in 2009, Luke Walsh had a blinder scoring twice in Penrith’s 26-10 win.  Prior to the joint venture victories for Penrith at Leichhard were rare.  In fact, only on three other occasions have the Panthers won at the ground.  In 1994 where they won 22-10, 1984 with a 24-14 victory.  A fourteen year gap back to 1970 for the club’s first victory at Leichhardt – Penrith 16 (Ern Gillon, Bob Landers tries; Bruce Ward 2, Bob Landers goals; Laurie Fagan, Bruce Ward field goals) beat Balmain 14 (Paul Cross, Len Killeen tries; Len Killeen 3, Dave Bolton goals).  History well against the Panthers.

What could happen…

Penrith will come out and look to dominate the Wests Tigers.  You can expect the Panthers to try and expose the Tigers out wide with Josh Mansour in good try scoring form facing up against Pat Richards.  Canberra showed last week that kicking behind Richards’ wing can return favourable results.  Dean Whare is set to match up against Chris Lawrence.  Lawrence hasn’t quite been setting the rugby league world on fire, but is capable of producing a match winning performance.  Whare on the other hand will be looking to use his neat footwork and ball skills to expose his counterpart.  You can expect plenty of high kicks coming the way of Blake Austin who’s relatively inexperienced at fullback.  The experience of Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace will ensure it’s not a good afternoon for the ex-Panther.  Penrith are capable of winning the forward battle as they hope to give Brent Kite a 300 game victory celebration.  Sika Manu had a wonderful game last week and James Segeyaro has been in dynamic form playing at hooker.  On the bench Jeremy Latimore has grown in confidence after extending his contract with the club.

Wests Tigers will heavily rely on Luke Brooks to get them home.  Brooks is a superstar in the making and has shown signs of becoming a match winner.  One only has to look back to their loss against Brisbane at Campbelltown to see how Brooks inspired the team to get the Tigers back into the game before an injury forced him from the field and the side losing their way momentarily.  The experience of Braith Anasta, Richards, Lawrence, Keith Galloway and Adam Blair will cause the Panthers trouble.  Blair has shaken off the ‘worse buy’ tag and performed quite well this season.  It seems now the Tigers are starting to get value for their money.  Richards is capable of being a match winner with the boot, or becoming a villain with his discipline.  Keith Galloway will lead the pack which misses the ‘heart and soul’ of the team in Robbie Farah.

In attack, Penrith have scored nineteen more points than the West Tigers this season.  Defensively, Penrith concede sixteen points a match compared to the Tigers twenty-two.  And simply it could come down to defense that wins the game.  Penrith’s ability to hold their own line could be the determining factor if both sides are even in the middle part of the field.  If Penrith were to win by fifteen points they would take the National Rugby League competition lead on points differential after Canterbury’s Friday night win over Manly.

So who wins?

Penrith have been the ultimate bounce back kings but this game is different.  They face a Tigers side undermanned and playing at Leichhardt, that’s double danger.  It will take discipline and defense to win this one for Brent Kite.  While it would be great to be at the top of the table again, all that Ivan’s men will be worried about is getting the two points.  Don’t expect any favours from the Tigers this week but the boys should be able to record their tenth win for the season.

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