The 1st placed Penrith Panthers are looking for their 10th win in a row having won 13 of their last 14 games when they take on a Wests Tigers side still smarting over a come from behind loss to Mounties who in the process denied the Tigers their 6th straight win with that last minute 30-26 loss. The Tigers having lost 22-14 to the Panthers back in Round 6 will be keen to reverse that especially on home turf & put an end to this winning streak that currently stands at 9.
Although playing their third away game in a row, the Panthers will go into this game as heavy favourites given their squad containing no less than 10 players with NRL experience including a starting pack that wouldn’t look out of place in the NRL with the likes of Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston, Ryan Simpkins, Ben Murdoch-Masila & Matt Robinson.
Tale Of The Tape:
This is the second meeting between these two sides in 2014 with Penrith having won the first encounter at SportingBet Stadium 22-14 in what was a hard-fought affair. A win for the Panthers will maintain their top status on the NSW Cup ladder but a loss may see Wentworthville join them in top spot depending on a results. Conversely a win for the Tigers will see them finish the round in 3rd position so there is plenty to play for both sides. There will also be plenty of feeling in this game given that Ben Murdoch-Masila & Tom Humble (Penrith) & Sam Hollis (Tigers) line up against their former team mates for the first time in 2014.
A) Team Stats:
Attack: Panthers 28.75 ppg (2nd); Tigers 28.20 ppg (4th)
Defense: Panthers 19.38 ppg (1st); Tigers 20.53 ppg (3rd)
Differential: Panthers 9.38 ppg (1st); Tigers 7.67 ppg (2nd)
B) Player Stats:
NRL Experience (based on listed teams): Panthers 10 (611 games) Tigers 2 (9 games)
Try Scorers: Panthers – K Naiqama 12 (4th), E Nabuli 10 (7th)
Points: Panthers – W Smith 80 (6th), W Naiqama 64 (10th)
Tackles: Panthers – R Simpkins 501 (4th); Tigers – J Farlow 494 (7th)
Runs: Panthers – S Anderson 205 (5th); Tigers – A Fine 189 (7th)
Hit Ups: Panthers – S Anderson 152 (6th), Reagan Campbell-Gillard 141 (9th)
Line Breaks: Panthers – E Nabuli 15 (4th), K Naiqama 13 (=5th)
Ball Receipts: Panthers – K Moseley 990 (3nd), Tigers – J Luani 920 (4th)
Dummy Half Runs: Tigers – S Taukafa 63 (3rd), J Luani 60 (4th)
Panthers: IN – Tom Eisenhuth OUT – Waqa Blake, Sam Anderson (VBSWCUP Reps), Kevin Naiqama (NRL)
Coach Garth Brennan has still to finalise his 17 given he has lost Sam Anderson & Waqa Blake to the NSW Cup representative side that will play Queensland as a pre-cursor to Origin on Wednesday night while Kevin Naiqama has earned another re-call to the first grade squad given Isaah Yeo has also been selected for the representative side. Wes Naiqama will move into the centres allowing Tom Eisenhuth to come into the side on the wing. Reagan Campbell-Gillard will start the game in place of Sam Anderson. There is speculation that the younger brother of former Panther prop Sam Hollis, Pat Hollis may become the 11th Panthers debutant in the NSW Cup in 2014 making for an interesting sub-plot in this game.
The team is as follows:
1. WILL SMITH 2. ETO NABULI 3. TBA 4. WES NAIQAMA 5. TOM EISENHUTH 6. TOM HUMBLE
7. LUKE CAPEWELL 8. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD 9. KEVIN KINGSTON 10. TIM GRANT
11. BEN MURDOCH-MASILA 12. MATT ROBINSON 13. RYAN SIMPKINS
INTERCHANGE: 14. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI 15. LIAM AYOUB 16. ANTHONY CHERRINGTON 17. TBA
COACH: GARTH BRENNAN
Tigers: IN – Daniel Abou-Sleiman, James Gavet, Dayne Craig, Andy Fiagatusa, Sam Hollis, Sonny Bristow OUT – Keith Lulia, Joel Luani, Dene Halatau, Sitaleki Akauola (NRL), Jack Buchanan, Nathan Brown (NSW CUP Reps)
Coach Paul Fletcher has also been forced into making changes brought about by injuries in the Tigers NRL side as well as the loss of key personnel, Jack Buchanan & Nathan Brown to the NSW Cup Reps side. Stefano Taukafa will cover Keith Lulia at centre allowing Daniel Abou-Sleiman to come in on the wing, while James Gavet returns from injury to cover the loss of Jack Buchanan. Joel Luani & Dene Halatau allows Brendan Santi to start in the back row while Dayne Craig will start at hooker. Sam Hollis, Andy Fiagatusa & Sonny Bristow all come onto the interchange bench. There is plenty of mail suggesting that Mitchell Moses will make his NRL debut in the fullback role however.
The team is as follows:
1. JY HITCHCOX 2. COREY BROWN 3. ASIPELI FINE 4. SETEFANO TAUKAFA 5. DANIEL ABOU-SLEIMAN
6. MITCHELL MOSES 7. MICHAEL STEVENS 8. JAMES GAVET 9. DAYNE CRAIG 10. MICHAEL BULLOCK
11. BRENDEN SANTI 12. JARRED FARLOW (C) 13. KYLE LOVETT
INTERCHANGE: 14. NATHAN BROWN 15. ANDY FIAGATUSA 16. SAM HOLLIS 17. INNO INOSESIO
18. SONNY BRISTOW (1 TO OMIT)
COACH: PAUL FLETCHER
The Panthers when you look across the teams named look to have too much class for what will no doubt be a fired up Tigers wanting to make amends for that Round 6 loss especially at their spiritual home, Leichhardt Oval. On paper at least this game appears a mis-match in terms of experience with the Panthers boasting 10 players with over 600 NRL gmes experience while the Tigers having been depleted by injury & rep duties have only 2 players with just 9 NRL games experience. That’s not to say that the side that runs on to the field on Sunday should not be taken lightly as there are plenty of future stars in this side with many of them graduates from their 2012 NYC premiership winning team. Statistically both sides almost cancel each other out in both attack in defence & this does shape up as a cracking fixture & a possible grand final preview between teams 1 & 3 on the ladder. Penrith may have won 9 games in a row but the class & experience has mounted for little in recent times for the Panthers having won their last 5 matches by a combined margin of just 25 points, as their games have been punctuated with defensive lapses particularly in the last 20 minutes where having clocked up decent match-winning leads. Discipline or lack of also continues to plague the Panthers given they have been soundly beaten in the penalty counts in five of their last 6 games. That said had the Tigers been closer to full strength I would tip Penrith by 1 but I just think the Panthers may have too much class & experience to defeat what will no doubt be a willing Tigers side by 10.