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MATCH PREVIEW | Penrith Panthers vs Newcastle Knights

Todd Warren previews the last game of the regular season. Two teams with nothing to play for but pride.

TEAM FORM GUIDE

Panthers

The Panthers have had a rough few weeks and have lost their last three straight. With one win from their last six games after their mid-season seven game winning streak they have been very inconsistent all season. They were dominated by the Roosters last week in a 22-6 loss.

Knights

A comprehensive 38-4 win over the Titans last week and a 42-6 victory against the Cowboys in Round 22 have been the only high points for Newcastle lately. Three wins from their last ten games, and oddly enough the other win was against the Broncos. Three wins since Round 14 and they were all against Queensland teams.

SQUAD NEWS

Panthers

Josh Mansour is on the extended bench and is a chance to return from his back injury. If he returns it will presumably push Stephen Crichton out of the side so keep an eye on final team lists. Wayde Egan starts at hooker with Sione Katoa on the extended bench and Jarome Luai named in jersey 14.

This is likely the last time we see James Maloney play a game in the NRL in what has been a disappointing season in an otherwise great career. His resume includes leading three different clubs to Grand Finals, three consecutive Minor Premierships with the Roosters, 14 Origin games with two series wins, two games for Australia and Grand Final wins with the Roosters in 2013 and the Sharks in 2016.

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Panthers team list:

1. Dylan Edwards
2. Stephen Crichton
3. Dean Whare
4. Brent Naden
5. Brian To’o
6. James Maloney
7. Nathan Cleary
8. James Tamou (c)
9. Wayde Egan
10. Moses Leota
11. Viliame Kikau
12. Liam Martin
13. James Fisher-Harris
14. Jarome Luai
15. Spencer Leniu
16. Billy Burns
17. Reagan Campbell-Gillard

Knights

Lachlan Fitzgibbon starts with Aidan Guerra joining Kurt Mann on the bench. Jacob Saifiti moves to the extended bench.

The Knights are out of finals contention but a few players will be looking to end the season strong to impress incoming coach Adam O’Brien. They’ll also be playing to try to prove something to their fans, who made their frustrations apparent last week with a much smaller than expected crowd.

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Knights team list:

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Bradman Best
3. Sione Mata’utai
4. Hymel Hunt
5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
6. Mason Lino
7. Mitchell Pearce (c)
8. David Klemmer
9. Connor Watson
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
12. Mitch Barnett
13. Tim Glasby
14. Kurt Mann
15. Herman Ese’ese
16. Josh King
17. Aidan Guerra

HEAD TO HEAD

The Panthers have dominated the Knights through their last few years of struggling to get away from the bottom of the ladder. Penrith have won eight of the last ten clashes including a 16-14 victory in Newcastle back in Round Two.

KEY BATTLE

Nathan Cleary vs Mitchell Pearce will play a big part in who will win this game. Cleary replaced Pearce as first choice half for New South Wales back in 2018 but Pearce took over when Cleary went down injured after Game One this year, which was enough to award Mitchell with his first Origin series win in his eighth series. Mitch was a huge signing for Newcastle as they looked to turn the club around but has been rather inconsistent since arriving in the Hunter Valley. There’s only so long people can make excuses for Mitch as he has a good roster to lead around now. He needs consistent good form rather than the purple patch he had during the middle of this season that was good enough to get him back in the frame for Origin.

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Likewise, Nathan Cleary has been rather hot and cold in a club that should be pushing for the Top Four rather than missing Finals. One factor which may play a part is having to share a halves combination with James Maloney, who is undoubtedly one of the top halves in the game with a lot of accolades to prove that. It seems though sometimes Cleary takes a back seat and lets Maloney run things rather than taking control of the team. Sharing responsibility is fine but clubs need a dominant half to lead them and it’s unclear who that is at the Panthers. Next season will give Nathan a good opportunity to step up and prove that it’s his team.

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THE IMPORTANT DETAILS

Date: Sunday September 8th
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Kick-off: 4:05pm
Referee: Adam Gee, Jon Stone

WHO WILL WIN?

Panthers will be too good and Maloney will have a blinder in a Man Of The Match performance. Penrith by 14.

 

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