The Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels begin their 2018 campaigns with the Battle of the West at Panthers Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Penrith Panthers have had a less than thrilling start to their year, losing a trial match 24-10 to a second string Bulldogs side whilst they had fielded a large majority of their first grade team. A trial game isn’t a sure sign of future form but it does indicate that it may take a while before the new look side comes together coherently.
The Eels have had a fairly uneventful pre-season with Hayne headlines being about the only significant press they’ve received. After finishing the 2017 season in the Top 4, the Eels went out in straight sets to somewhat disappointing fashion in the finals. However the good form of Mitchell Moses and Cameron King has given them a chance to build upon the side that got them to the finals after those two were late arrivals to the team last year.
The Panthers have seen a mini player exodus come and go. The attacking dynamism of Matt Moylan will be sorely missed and Bryce Cartwright’s unpredictability could be a headache for teammate and opposition alike. Without those two, the Panthers attack will take a whole different shape with new recruit James Maloney spearheading the way.
Villiame Kikau has received a promotion to the starting back-row after being used sparingly by Anthony Griffin in 2017 while Sam McKendry returns from a lengthy injury lay-off on the bench. The captaincy returns to a veteran in Peter Wallace who was always a vocal leader even when Griffin experimented with Moylan as captain.
Obviously the biggest news surrounding the Eels side is the return of Jarryd Hayne. His move to the centres has pushed Brad Takairangi to the bench, likely in a utility role. The absence of fan favourite Clint ‘The King’ Gutherson means Bevan French has a lock on the fullback role for the time being.
Kenny Edwards may be considered unfortunate to be left out of the starting 17 while new recruit Kane Evans begins life as an Eel on the bench. The rest of the side has remained relatively the same with the exception of Semi Radradra’s departure.
The halves. It’s going to take a mighty effort from the new halves duo of Maloney and Cleary to topple an Eels side with halves that have gone from strength to strength.
After Mitchell Moses played his way into an early release from the Tigers, he managed to finish the year incredibly strong and with the benefit of a full pre-season at the Eels now under his belt, it’s certainly possible he can reach even greater heights in 2018. His defence has improved significantly and the Panthers are going to need to limit his influence on the match.
The arrival of James Maloney provides the Panthers with an experienced half who has been a good luck charm to his previous two teams, delivering them each a premiership. However at the same time, the Panthers also now have a half that concedes the most penalties in the game and misses the most tackles. He’ll need to prove himself as an asset more than a liability. Expect the Eels to send a fair bit of traffic his way.
Nathan Cleary’s mid-field bombs have the potential to terrorize Hoffman and Auva’a under the high ball. Good kick pressure will be the Eels key to shutting him down. As good as Cleary has already demonstrated himself to be, he’s still far from his prime so the Eels are going to need to brace themselves for any new tricks he has up his sleeve.
The Panthers have won 6 out of their last 7 games at Panthers Stadium.
1 Dylan Edwards, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Waqa Blake, 4 Tyrone Peachey, 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 James Tamou, 9 Peter Wallace (c), 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 Trent Merrin
Interchange: 14 Corey Harawira-Naera, 15 Sam McKendry, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Fisher-Harris
Reserves: 18 Sione Katoa, 19 Tim Browne, 20 Christian Crichton, 21 Jarome Luai
1 Bevan French, 2 Josh Hoffman, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 Kirisome Auva’a, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Tim Mannah (c), 11 Manu Ma’u, 12 Tepai Moeroa, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14 Beau Scott (c), 15 Brad Takairangi, 16 Suaia Matagi, 17 Kane Evans.
Reserves: 18 Will Smith, 19 Kenny Edwards, 20 David Gower, 21 Kaysa Pritchard
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday 11th March
Venue: Panthers Stadium
WHO WILL WIN?