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#VBNSWCUP MATCH PREVIEW – Penrith Panthers vs Illawarra Cutters

FINALS WEEK 1 V ILLAWARRA @ Leichhardt Oval, Sunday 7th September @ 12PM AEST

The finals are here & runaway NSW Cup Minor Premiers, the Penrith Panthers have the opportunity to go straight to a Week 3 preliminary final, when they take on 4th placed Illawarra Cutters in the 1st game of a triple header at Leichhardt Oval.

The Panthers despite missing several of their stars saw the likes of Kieran Moss, Tom Humble & Kevin Naiqama put a clinical attacking display in the 1st 60 minutes to blow away then 2nd placed Wentworthville Magpies 44-12 last Saturday at Sportingbet Stadium while the Illawarra Cutters moved back into the top 4 courtesy of a home loss by the Wests Tigers to Wyong Roos which saw them move back to 6th place on for & against.

The Panthers after round 2 were 0-2 but since then have won an incredible 20 of 22 games including their last 5 straight to enter the finals as the form team of the NSW Cup & in the process eclipsed the previous record of the2013 premiers, Cronulla with a whopping 44 competition points.

In contrast, Illawarra have had an up & down season consistency wise but have improved all the same in 2014 to not only reach the finals but finish in 4th spot. Prior to the bye though, they have lost their lost last 2 games, both to Top 8 opposition but the bye should have them refreshed & primed to give Penrith another tough game. The Cutters do possess the 2nd best for & against & the 2nd best defensive record in the competition, but unlike the Panthers who have a 12-2 record against top 8 teams, the Cutters only have a 6 wins 7 losses & 1 draw record. Their record away from home against top 9 teams stands at 2 wins 4 losses & 1 draw versus Penrith’s 6 wins from 7 games.

Tale Of The Tape:

This is the third meeting between these two sides in 2014 with the Panthers having the better of Illawarra on both occasions – a tough 19-18 win on the road followed up two weeks later with an equally tough 28-22 win at home. The Cutters have been one of Penrith’s tougher opponents in 2014 having lost by a combined margin of just 7 points.

With week 1 of the finals coinciding with Round 26 of the NRL, there is no respite for Garth Brennan re: player availability giving the Panthers still continue to lose players through injury & suspension. At least for week 1 of the finals, Garth hasn’t lost any players to the NRL side & with the inclusion of a couple of prominent players backed from assisting the Holden Cup side this might actually be the strongest side Garth has been able to name in recent times. In some good news, Tom Humble who was charged with a Grade 1 Shoulder Charge had the charge dismissed by the judiciary & is cleared to play this weekend.

The Cutters will field three ex-Panthers in Junior Tia Kilifi (still looking for his first win over his brother Vaipuna in 5 attempts), Geoff Daniela & Shannon Wakeman.

Team Changes:

Panthers: In: Waqa Blake, Chris Smith Out: Sakeo Dibeci (dropped), Josh Tangitau (NYC)

With the continuing injury & suspension dramas in the first grade squad, Garth Brennan has been forced to call back Waqa Blake from the NYC squad into the centres & has promoted another NYC player, Chris Smith into the squad via the interchange bench for Josh Tangitau who goes back to the NYC side.

Whilst not named to play Tom Eisenhuth & Anthony Cherrington are close to making a return from injury while the possible return of Brent Kite in first grade may see a further reshuffle depending on who comes back into the NSW Cup squad.

Despite the issues in first grade, Brennan has named a 17 man squad that still has 6 players with NRL experience. It remains to be seen whether the likes of Ben Murdoch Masila or Kierran Moseley come back into the side if Brent Kite returns from injury in the NRL or whether Tom Eisenhuth & / or Anthony Cherrington make themselves available as possible late inclusions.

The team is as follows:

  1. KIERAN MOSS 2. ETO NABULI 3. WAQA BLAKE 4. KEVIN NAIQAMA 5. WES NAIQAMA
  2. LUKE CAPEWELL 7. TOM HUMBLE 8. LEILANI LATU 9. DANIEL FOSTER
  3. REAGAN CAMPBELL-GILLARD 11. VAIPUNA TIA KILIFI 12. NATHAN SMITH 13. RYAN SIMPKINS

INTERCHANGE: 14. LIAM AYOUB 15. PAT HOLLIS 16. MITCH CLARK 17. CHRIS SMITH

COACH: GARTH BRENNAN

Illawarra: IN – Kyle Eather, Jack Stockwell OUT – Shane Pumipi, Bronson Harrison (NRL)

Coach Scott Logan loses the services of Shane Pumipi & Bronson Harrison to the Dragons NRL side for this week’s clash but regains Jack Stockwell. Kyle Eather returns at five eighth that sees Sam Duggan move back to the bench. Will be interesting to see if Charly Runciman is a lte inclusion given he is not too far away from returning from injury. Logan still has plenty of experience in his side with the likes of Quinlan, Daniela, Tia Kilifi, Green & Mataka.

The team is as follows:

  1. ADAM QUINLAN 2. YAW KITI GLYMIN 3. JUNIOR TIA-KILIFI 4. GEOFF DANIELA 5. TYRON CRANSTON
  2. KYLE EATHER 7. DREW HUTCHISON 8. JACK STOCKWELL 9. JOEL JOHNSON 10. RORY O’BRIEN
  3. NATHAN GREEN 12. CHRIS LEWIS 13. SHANNON WAKEMAN

INTERCHANGE: 14. SAM DUGGAN 15. JOSH AILAOMAI 16. WILLIE MATAKA 17. JEFF MOATE

COACH: SCOTT LOGAN

The Verdict

It’s a battle of the team with the best attack & defence against the team with the 2nd best defence.

The Panthers have won five in a row since their last loss to the Jets despite wrapping up the minor premiership with four rounds remaining. Coach Garth Brennan would have been looking for his side to play with more intensity over the 80 minutes rather than fading in & out of games particularly in the second half. The results have shown that the Panthers have responded having conceded just 50 points in their last 5 games to now only concede less than 18 points per game in season 2014, the only team to concede less than 20 points per game.

The stats show that if Penrith concedes less than 20 points per game they have yet to lose in 12 games. Similarly in the 11 games where they have scored more 30 points per game they have yet to lose those as well.

The Panthers will be a hoping for a dry track as they really had to grind out a late come from behind win at Figtree the last time these two teams met in wet conditions 19-18 midway thru the season.

The Cutters won’t be without some hope however knowing that the all-conquering 2013 premiers Cronulla Sharks lost their week 1 finals game to the 4th placed Windsor Wolves but the Wolves were coming in on a 4 game winning streak at that time whereas the Cutters have lost their last two games but have had a bye to help freshen up for this clash. The Cutters have had a hard schedule playing all top 8 teams in their last 5 games winning 2 & losing three so will be battle hardened for this clash.

Look to some great match-ups across the park such as Moss v Quinlan, Glymin v Nabuli, Blake v Daniela, Humble v Hutchison & Stockwell v Campbell-Gillard.

The Panthers go into this game as deserved favourites but the Cutters won’t fear them having had those two close losses. The Panthers thou have the class playmakers with Moss, Capewell & Humble will be looking to unleash a powerful all Fijian three-quarter backline that has plenty of pace to burn and provided Penrith’s forwards can match it with the big Cutters pack, they should prove too good in the end but not without a fight from Cutters.

Panthers by 6.

Key Stats:

  1. Team Stats:

Attack: Panthers 31.42 ppg (1st); Cutters 27.33 ppg (5th)

Defence: Panthers 17.96 ppg (1st); Cutters 20.67 ppg (2nd)

Differential: Panthers 13.46 ppg (1st); Cutters 6.67 ppg (5th)

  1. Player Stats:

NRL Experience (based on listed teams):

Panthers 6 (366 games) including N Smith (128), W Naiqama (121)

Cutters 6 (140 games) including G Daniela (45), J Stockwell (35)

Try Scorers: Panthers – E Nabuli 16 (=3rd), K Naiqama 15, (7th); Cutters – G Daniela 13 (=9th)

Points: Panthers – W Naiqama 138 (3rd); W Smith 100 (5th)

Ball Receipts: Panthers – K Moseley 1,129 (8th)

Runs: Panthers – R Campbell-Gillard 263 (9th); K Glymin 264 (8th)

Run Metres: Panthers – R Campbell-Gillard 2,375 (7th)

Tackle Breaks: Cutters – K Glymin 60 (10th)

Line Breaks: Panthers – E Nabuli 19 (3rd), K Naiqama 18 (4th); Cutters – C Runciman 14 (=9th)

Kick Receipts: Panthers – K Moss 86 (7th); Cutters – K Eather 85 (=8th)

Hit Ups: Panthers – R Campbell-Gillard 219 (8th)

Kick Metres: Panthers – T Humble 3,120 (3rd)

Tackles: Panthers – R Simpkins 750 (5th)

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