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#VBNSWCUP MATCH PREVIEW – Penrith Panthers vs North Sydney Bears

ROUND 22 V NORTH SYDNEY BEARS @ SportingBet Stadium, Saturday 9th August @ 3PM AEST

Newly crowned NSW Cup minor premiers, the Penrith Panthers play their 2nd consecutive home game in as many weeks when they take on last placed North Sydney Bears who desperately need a win in order to have any hope of avoiding the wooden spoon in 2014, with just 4 rounds remaining.

The Panthers recovered from a slow & disjointed first half performance to completely dominate 12th placed Manly Sea Eagles 36-0 last Saturday despite the loss of key personnel. The defensive performance particularly would have pleased newly re-signed coach Garth Brennan, who withdrew from the race to become the next Newcastle NRL coach.

The Bears were again competitive but couldn’t go the distance with fellow strugglers Canterbury, going down in their 10th consecutive loss of the season, 34-16. Despite their string of losses, they have played good footy which belies their position at the bottom of the NSW Cup ladder & last time these two teams met, the Bears got to within 4 points against a star-studded Panthers outfit going down 32-28.

Despite the injury dramas to the Panthers NRL squad, Penrith have named a very strong NSW Cup side & coach Garth Brennan will be looking for a more committed 80 minute performance from a team that almost lost to the Bears earlier this year & hopefully put to bed that tendency to lapse in intensity around the 50-70 minute mark of games.

Tale Of The Tape:

This is the second meeting between these two sides in 2014 with the Panthers having the better of North Sydney though the Bears were fast finishing in losing by only 4 points – 32-28 at North Sydney Oval back in Round 15. The Panthers are currently eight points clear & have secured the minor premiership with four rounds remaining while the Bears are last on 8 points, 4 points behind Manly hence a win here will help keep their chances alive of avoiding the dreaded wooden spoon & perhaps pass it on to their northern suburbs rivals, so there is plenty to play for still for the Bears.

Former Panther through his days with feeder club, the Windsor Wolves, Kane Morgan lines up again at fullback against many of his former team mates & will be keen to show Penrith why they shouldn’t have allowed him to join the Bears. Other ex-team mates Neccrom Areaiiti & Blake South have not been named this week. For the Panthers, ex-Rabbitoh Luke Capewell comes up against his former feeder club.

Key Stats:

A)     Team Stats:

Attack: Panthers 29.7 ppg (1st); Bears 18.9 ppg (11th)

Defense: Panthers 18.81 ppg (1st); Bears 32.7 ppg (13th)

Differential: Panthers 10.9 ppg (1st); Bears -13.8 ppg (12th)

B)      Player Stats:

NRL Experience (based on listed teams):

Panthers 10 (604 games) including Kevin Kingston (182), Nathan Smith (128), Wes Naiqama (121)

Bears 3 (26 games)

Try Scorers: Panthers – E Nabuli & K Naiqama 13, (=5th); Bears – C Johnston 16 (3rd)

Points: Panthers – W Naiqama 112 (3rd); W Smith 100 (5th);

Ball Receipts: Panthers – K Moseley 1,129 (4th)

Runs: Bears – N Neale 232 (9th)

Tackle Breaks: Bears – C Johnston 56 (8th)

Line Breaks: Panthers – E Nabuli 16 (4th), K Naiqama 15 (5th); Bears – C Johnston 14 (=6th)

Kick Receipts: Panthers – K Moss 65 (9th); Bears – K Morgan 82 (3rd)

Hit Ups: Panthers – R Campbell-Gillard 186 (8th); Bears – N Neale 201 (4th)

Kick Metres: Panthers – T Humble 2,234 (7th); Bears – J Worboys 2,515 (3rd)

Tackles: Panthers – R Simpkins 666 (5th); Bears – N Neale 801 (1st), M Hyland 786 (2nd)

Team Changes:

Panthers: IN – Eddie Aiono, Sam Anderson, Kevin Kingston, Ben Murdoch-Masila OUT – Waqa Blake (NYC), Tim Grant (NRL), Peter Tia Tia (NYC)

Coach Garth Brennan has named a 19 man squad that sees the likes of Kevin Kingston, Sam Anderson & Ryan Simpkins despite their naming in the Panthers NRL squad this week, who play a day later on Sunday. The Panthers are also strengthened by the return from injury of Ben Murdoch-Masila, a handy replacement for Matt Robinson who also has been given the call up to first grade, along with Tim Grant. Waqa Blake & last week’s debutant, Peter Tia Tia go back to the NYC squad with the aim of boosting that team’s chances of qualifying for the NYC finals as defending premiers. Windsor Wolves Ron Massey Cup team mates Mitch Clark & Iain Riccardi have been included on a 6 man interchange bench.

The team is as follows:

1. KIERAN MOSS 2. ETO NABULI 3. EDDIE AIONO 4. WES NAIQAMA 5. KEVIN NAIQAMA

6. LUKE CAPEWELL 7. TOM HUMBLE 8. SAM ANDERSON 9. KEVIN KINGSTON

10. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD 11. BEN MURDOCH-MASILA 12. NATHAN SMITH

13. RYAN SIMPKINS

INTERCHANGE: 14. DANIEL FOSTER 15. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI 16. TOM EISENHUTH 17. LIAM AYOUB

18. MITCH CLARK 19. IAIN RICCARDI (2 TO OMIT)

COACH: GARTH BRENNAN

Bears: IN – Nick Hedley, Blake Nicholls, Chris Grevsmuhl, Josh Toole OUT – Curtis Johnston, Apisai Koroisau

Coach Wayne Lambkin has lost two of his attacking weapons in Curtis Johnston & Apisai Koroisau with Panther fans denied the opportunity to get a close up look at home at their new signing for 2015. Chris Grevsmuhl, who has been one of the shining lights in this Bears outfit returns to the starting side for this clash. The Rabbitohs NRL team have a 20 man squad for their NRL clash tonight hence don’t be surprised if the likes of Luke Burgess, Bryson Goodwin & Joe Picker are late inclusions along with possibly the likes of Nathan Merritt, Joel Reddy & perhaps Cameron McInnes. As it stands, the Bears are horribly mismatched against the Panthers with just 3 players with NRL experience.

The team is as follows:

1. KANE MORGAN 2. MARK O’DARE 3. JOE ULUIBAU 4. JESSE ROBERTS 5. NICK HEDLEY

6. KURT ALDRIDGE 7. BLAKE NICHOLS 8. NATHANIEL NEALE 9. MATT HYLAND 10. BRAD LUPI

11. JACKSON WILLIAMS 12. CHRIS GREVSMUHL 13. DUNCAN LOW

INTERCHANGE: 14. TAREK EL MASRI 15. STEVEN TAVITA 16. JOSH TOOLE 17. WES MOURAD

18. DANIEL VASEK 19. SIONE KITE (2 TO OMIT)

COACH: WAYNE LAMBKIN

The Verdict

The Panthers having won the minor premiership enter the next phase of this competition looking to rotate their playing roster & ensure that everyone is fit & ready for the finals campaign ahead. After this game the team will have a well-earned break having played 15 games for 13 wins & just 2 losses. In fact with their current record of 17 wins & 4 losses, a winning run to the finals will see the Panthers eclipse last year’s minor premiers Cronulla sharks with 44 points, which is still a tough ask when considering the Panthers still have games against top 4 aspirants Mounties & Wentworthville & the fact that three key players – Grant, Kingston & Robinson are possibilities of missing these games to cover for the NRL team’s misfortunes with injuries at the moment.

The Bears can do one of two things, turn up with the intent to fight for pride or turn up with the off season trip looming in their minds. Either way if the Panthers are serious about preparing for the finals footy, this is the team they need to pout to the sword, particularly in front of their loyal fans at home.

Panthers by 24.

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