Jem Nash previews the 2020 season opener for the Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters.
The Panthers were one of the more disappointing sides during 2019. They had a horror start after a tumultuous off season, and despite a solid fightback through the middle of the season, they missed the finals in Ivan Cleary’s first year back at the helm.
They produced two solid performances in the 2020 pre-season: a 32-4 victory over the Wests Tigers before a 22-all draw against the Parramatta Eels.
With James Maloney departing in the off season, it’s time for Nathan Cleary to take the next step and lead this team. The Panthers’ attack was dreadful in 2019, especially inside the opposition’s 20 metre line. If they want to find success against a formidable Roosters side this weekend, and success for the rest of the season, Cleary needs to lead from the front.
The Roosters’ quest for a three-peat begins this weekend. There is no doubt going back-to-back is incredibly difficult but the Roosters managed to pull it off last year. Now, after losing Latrell Mitchell and Cooper Cronk through the off season, new players will have to step up to fill the void.
If the World Club Challenge is anything to go by, the Roosters have barely lost a step, beating St Helens 20-12 in the annual fixture.
This game against the Panthers is perhaps an easy one on paper, but with a number of young stars brimming with potential in the Penrith lineup, it’s not one the Roosters can take lightly.
1 Caleb Aekins, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Brent Naden, 5 Brian To’o, 6 Jarome Luai, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 James Tamou, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Zane Tetevano, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Liam Martin, 13 Isaah Yeo, 14 Stephen Crichton, 15 James Fisher-Harris, 16 Moses Leota, 17 Jack Hetherington, 18 Billy Burn, 19 Matt Burton, 20 Jed Cartwright 21 Kaide Ellis
1 James Tedesco, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Angus Crichton, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Brett Morris, 6 Luke Keary, 7 Kyle Flanagan, 8 Jared Warea-Hargreaves, 9 Jake Friend, 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho, 11 Sitili Tupouniua, 12 Mitchell Aubusson, 13 Victor Radley, 14 Sam Verrills, 15 Isaac Liu, 16 Nat Butcher, 17 Lindsay Collins, 18 Matt Ikuvalu, 19 Poasa, Faamausili, 20 Lachlan Lam, 21 Asu Kepaoa
The Panthers and Roosters split wins last season, with the Panthers earning a 19-10 victory in round thirteen in the middle of a seven-game winning streak, while the Roosters bounced back with a comfortable 22-6 win in round twenty-four.
The Roosters will have to keep a close eye on the always dangerous Viliame Kikau, as the barnstorming back rower scored three tries in their two games last year. There’s no questioning how important Kikau is to this Panthers side, so if the Roosters can keep him relatively quiet, that will go a long way to winning this game.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Apisai Koroisau v Jake Friend
The battle in the front row between James Tamou and Jared Warea-Hargreaves will be an interesting one to watch, but perhaps more important is the battle of the dummy halves. Apisai Koroisau was a great pickup by the Panthers, who suffered from a lot of inconsistency at hooker a year ago.
Koroisau is always a threat carrying the ball from dummy half and his service to the halves is always on point. Jake Friend is one of the most consistent players in the competition, and will be fired up and ready to go after missing a significant chunk of last season due to injury.
Some responsibility will be on the forwards to get their teams on the front foot, but there’s a good chance that whichever dummy half is best on the day will have a significant impact on the result of this game.
Date: Saturday, March 14
Venue: Panthers Stadium