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Matt Pritchard previews the Saturday afternoon clash between newly crowned Minor Premiers Penrith Panthers and Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium. This is what we have to look forward to.

FORM LINE

Canterbury Bulldogs

Canterbury’s result against South Sydney last round was perfectly timed with Brisbane Broncos confirmed as the 2020 wooden spooners in their loss to North Queensland last night. In the last six weeks the improvement in effort has been significant. They were in the game against the Tigers, Warriors, Raiders and Titans before falling in defeat. To beat the Minor Premiers in the final round would be the biggest scalp of 2020.

Penrith Panthers

Penrith continued their winning streak against the North Queensland Cowboys, scoring a 32-12 victory at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. They led 26-0 five minutes into the second half and looked set for a big score, before a resilient Cowboys got some ball and pegged back the Panthers to reduce the margin to twenty. The win confirmed Penrith’s third Minor Premiership (1991, 2003, 2020).

SQUAD NEWS

Canterbury Bulldogs

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Forced changes for Steve Georgallis in his final game as caretaker of the Bulldogs. Tim Lafai has played his last game for the club after failing to beat a downgrade to a high tackle. Lachlan Lewis misses the nineteen man cut as he still recovers from a head knock. Kerrod Holland comes into the squad for his final game after announcing his retirement. Jack Cogger replaces Jake Averillo in the halves.

1. Will Hopoate 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Reimis Smith 23. Kerrod Holland 5. Jayden Okunbor 20. Jack Cogger 14. Brandon Wakeham 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Luke Thompson 11. Chris Smith 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Josh Jackson 15. Renouf To’omaga 16. Sione Katoa 17. Sauaso Sue 21. Tuipulotu Katoa.

Penrith Panthers

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Penrith have rested fullback Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Fijian international Viliame Kikau from the side that beat North Queensland last start. Daine Laurie gets a rare opportunity to play at fullback, Tyrone May will slot into the centres, and Kurt Capewell will start in the second row. James Tamou and Api Koroisau are back in the starting thirteen.

1. Daine Laurie 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone May 4. Brent Naden 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Matt Burton 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Zane Tetevano.

KEY STAT

How will the Bulldogs outscore Penrith?

It’s a huge ask for the Bulldogs to score the Panthers average of 26 points to cause a boilover.

Only twice this season have they scored 26 points or more. In Round 14 they went close to knocking off the Tigers (28-29) in their highest score of 2020. Last week they punished a disappointing South Sydney in their best win of the season (26-16). They’ll need a similar performance from Jayden Okunbor this week to be any chance of making that magic number.

In contrast, Penrith have only conceded more than twenty points twice all season. Back in Round 2 they beat the Dragons (32-28) and in Round 9 they conceded 24 to the Sharks (56-24).

We’ll find out in the first twenty minutes if the Panthers are switched on in preparation for the upcoming Finals.

BATTLE TO WATCH

Jayden Okunbor vs Josh Mansour

This should be an incredible match-up with a rejuvenated Jayden Okunbor taking on Josh Mansour.

Both have wonderful comeback stories in 2020.

Okunbor was effectively deregistered at the start of the season for an incident that took place in Coffs Harbour. Given a new lease of life, Okunbor has shown his value to the side. Last week was a prime example of the effectiveness of his attacking play, terrorising the Rabbitohs out wide in making 231 metres, of which 78 was post-contact. Okunbor is one player who could lift and inspire the Dogs into a winning position.

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Mansour since he injured his ACL in training with the Australian Kangaroos in 2016 has faced a few setbacks, which has resulted in fans questioning his value in the side. This year, Mansour has found his confidence and plays a senior role in a young backline. With nine tries and an average run game of 182 metres in 2020, there’s still life in the thirty-year old’s game.

GAME DETAILS

Penrith should be too strong for the Bulldogs in this one, especially with the return of Api Koroisau at dummy half. When the Bulldogs beat Penrith at Bankwest Stadium late last season, it was a fired up Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who spurred them to victory. It seems a long shot DWZ will have the same drive given his form has been down, but never say never.

Panthers by 16.

Date: Saturday September 26, 2020
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Kick-off: 3pm

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