Jem Nash previews the round three clash between the undefeated Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights.
The Panthers enjoyed a good start to the season, winning both their games before the break. They managed a come-from-behind win over the Dragons, but were more impressive in their round one victory over the defending premiers, the Roosters.
Like the Panthers, the Knights won both of their opening matches, holding the Warriors scoreless in round one before easily handling the Tigers in round two. New coach Adam O’Brien got his side off to a strong start but he’ll have to get them ready for a strong Panthers side.
1 Caleb Aekins 2 Josh Mansour 3 Dean Whare 4 Brent Naden 5 Brian To’o 6 Matt Burton 7 Jarome Luai 8 James Tamou 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Kurt Capewell 13 Isaah Yeo 14 Stephen Crichton 15 Zane Tetevano 16 Moses Leota 17 Liam Martin 18 Mitch Kenny 19 Billy Burns 20 Kaide Ellis 21 Charlie Staines
Matt Burton has come into the halves for his second NRL game, replacing the suspended Nathan Cleary; Kurt Capewell will make his club debut, pushing Zane Tetevano to the bench.
1 Tex Hoy 2 Edrick Lee 3 Enari Tuala 4 Gehamat Shibasaki 5 Hymel Hunt 6 Kurt Mann 7 Mitchell Pearce 8 David Klemmer 9 Connor Watson 10 Daniel Saifiti 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12 Sione Mata’utia 13 Herman Ese’ese 14 Chris Randall 15 Jacob Saifiti 16 Tim Glasby 17 Aidan Guerra 18 Bradman Best 19 Brodie Jones 20 Mason Lino 21 Pasami Saulo
Connor Watson has been named at hooker in place of the injured Jayden Brailey, while new signing Andrew McCullough has not been included in the squad. Tex Hoy will make his debut at fullback while Kalyn Ponga is out.
The Panthers have won seven of their past eight games against the Knights, their last clash a 54-10 thrashing at Panthers Stadium in round 25 last season. Nathan Cleary scored four tries on that day, so the Panthers will have to make up for his absence.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Apisai Koroisau v Connor Watson
With no Cleary, the Panthers are going to need a big performance from hooker Apisai Koroisau. The returning Koroisau was the Panthers’ best player in the opening two rounds, always a threat out of dummy half. He brought much-needed composure at a position where the Panthers have struggled for a couple of years.
On the other side, Connor Watson might not be an outright hooker, but the utility is a threat wherever he is on the field. Watson’s versatility is an asset to the Knights and a big performance from him could lead his side to their third straight win.
Panthers by six.
Date: Sunday, May 31
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium