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2021 NRL Round Seven Preview, Panthers Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this clash between the Panthers and Knights to open the ANZAC weekend of fixtures. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Bluebet Stadium, Penrith, Date: Thursday, April 22nd, Time: 7:50pm AEST

Panthers Team

1. Stephen Crichton
2. Charlie Staines
3. Paul Momirovski
4. Matt Burton
5. Brian To’o
6. Jarome Luai
7. Nathan Cleary
8. Moses Leota
9. Mitch Kenny
10. James Fisher-Harris
11. Viliame Kikau
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Isaah Yeo
14. Tyrone May
15. Spencer Leniu
16. Matthew Eisenhuth
17. Liam Martin
18. Scott Sorensen
19. Robert Jennings
20. Apisai Koroisau
21. Dylan Edwards

Team Changes

IN: Apisai Koroisau, Dylan Edwards, Robert Jennings, Scott Sorensen
OUT: Jaemon Salmon

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Starford To’a
3. Enari Tuala
4. Bradman Best
5. Brayden Musgrove
6. Kurt Mann
7. Blake Green
8. David Klemmer
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Mitchell Barnett
13. Connor Watson
14. Sauaso Sue
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Josh King
17. Brodie Jones
18. Simi Sasagi
19. Pasami Saulo
20. Gehamat Shibasaki
21. Phoenix Crossland

Team Changes

IN: Gehamat Shibasaki, Pasami Saulo, Phoenix Crossland, Starford To’a
OUT:
Hymel Hunt

Referee: Gerard Sutton

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Panthers

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The undefeated Panthers continued on their merry way last week as they outlasted the improving Broncos 20-12 at Suncorp Stadium. Despite not being at their best, the Panthers got away with the two competition points, thanks largely to halfback and co-captain Nathan Cleary, whose cool head under pressure saw the Panthers home.

With the game locked at 12-12 the NSW No.7 stepped up to break the deadlock with a two-point field goal in the 73rd minute, before icing the match with a try four minutes later. Penrith have now gone 21 regular season games undefeated (with their last lost coming in June 2020 against Parramatta), and whilst there looked like signs of complacency creeping into their game last week, a return home to Bluebet Stadium should kick them back into gear.

In more good news for the mountain men, both fullback Dylan Edwards and hooker Api Koroisau have been named in the 21 on Tuesday by Ivan Cleary: their returns are well ahead of schedule, which suggests they might not be quite ready for this Thursday night clash. Centre Paul Momirovski will be missing for the next three weeks after unsuccessfully seeking a downgrade at the judiciary. Robert Jennings has also been named in the squad and if Edwards isn’t passed fit expect Jennings to make his first appearance of the season.

Knights

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The injury-depleted Knights were able to bounce back from an embarrassing loss to the Titans in round five to claim a brave win against the Sharks last week. After three straight losses, two of which were at home, another loss would have been catastrophic for their season. But despite falling behind in the 68th minute for the first time in the match, a miracle try to Man of the Match Kalyn Ponga sealed a great victory for the Knights.

The fact that Ponga and housemate Connor Watson were both suffering from a stomach bug they picked up through the week makes their performances even more impressive. Ponga starred with two tries and two assists as he sent the home crowd into raptures, while Watson got through a ton of work without much fuss as he started his first game in his new role as lock forward.

Newcastle were unable to shake their injury curse as they picked up yet another injury, this time a torn hamstring to winger Hymel Hunt who left the game after just five minutes. Despite bench forward Brodie Jones starring in the unfamiliar role of right centre, coach Adam O’Brien has decided to bring back winger Star To’a to replace Hunt, allowing Enari Tuala to play his favoured right centre position.

PREVIEW

One team heads into this game undefeated, on top of the table and injury-free, whilst the other has limped to a three win-three loss record and are suffering through an injury crisis bad enough to cripple their season; on paper this looks like a mismatch and unless the Knights can rally and defy the odds, this could be a tough night at the office for the Red and Blue.

The Knights did overcome some big obstacles last time these two sides played in round three last season: Newcastle also went into that game missing multiple big name players and lost both Mitchell Pearce and Watson in the opening few minutes. The Knights were able to secure a brave 14-14 draw in that match, which will give them hope, but they are facing a different Penrith this time around.

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Penrith are flying at the moment and they don’t look like crashing anytime soon; they’ve already seen off the likes of Melbourne and Canberra this season to further cement themselves as premiership favourites. Questions marks over the loss of experienced personal such as James Tamou, Josh Mansour and Zane Tetevano have been quashed by the emergence of another wave of stars from the Penrith academy in the shape of Spencer Leniu, Charlie Staines, and Matt Burton.

Penrith have been dangerous all over the park, but their left-side attack has been devastating, tearing teams to shreds on a weekly basis. Despite Ivan Cleary changing some of his personal on the left, both Burton and Brian To’o have relished playing outside the rampaging Viliame Kikau this year; even if Kikau doesn’t get the ball he attracts the attention of multiple defenders making space for his outside men.

This is bad match-up for the Knights, who have struggled with their edge defence all season, especially on their right-hand side. Constantly changing personal hasn’t helped the Knights in this area, but the rampant Panthers will take little sympathy on the Knights and will no doubt send lots of traffic down that side.

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One area where the Knights can match the Panthers is in the forward pack; whilst they have injuries all over the park, their pack has stayed mostly intact and they boast no less than three NSW Origin forwards in David Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti, and new recruit Tyson Frizell. Whilst the former Dragons backrower was quiet against the Titans, he stepped up his game last week in the victory over the Sharks, running for 165 metres and throwing the final pass in the match-winning try.

If Newcastle are going to keep this game remotely close, or even dream of causing a massive upset, they need to win the forward battle and win it well. Penrith have threats all over the park and with the class and guile of Nathan Cleary they can hurt the Knights from anywhere on the field. But no matter how good the outside backs and spine players are it always makes it difficult to win if you lose the forward battle; expect early fireworks between Klemmer and his opposite prop James Fisher-Harris: two of the elite props in the NRL.

KEY STAT

When Penrith run out onto the field on Thursday night it will be 634 days since they last lost a game at home. That’s 16 straight home victories, with 12 of those coming at Bluebet Stadium and four at Campbelltown Stadium.

PREDICTION

You would have to be a brave man to tip the Knights in this clash: everything is pointing to a big Panthers win including their recent history; the Knights have suffered a couple of big defeats at Bluebet Stadium, including a 54-10 drubbing in 2019. 

Penrith 13+.

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