Julian Vella previews this Saturday afternoon clash between two undefeated teams through the opening two competition rounds, as the Penrith Panthers host the Newcastle Knights at their ‘home away from home’ Carrington Park in Bathurst.
Penrith Panthers Vs Newcastle Knights
Venue: Carrington Park, Bathurst
Date: Saturday March 26th, 3:00pm, AEST
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Charlie Staines 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Taylan May 6. Jarome Luai 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Matthew Eisenhuth 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon 18. J’maine Hopgood 19. Chris Smith 20. Robert Jennings 21. Lindsay Smith 22. Soni Luke 23. Kurt Falls 24. Nathan Cleary
Penrith got through a bruising contest with the Dragons with the two-competition points they desired, but that victory came at a cost with State of Origin winger Brian To’o picking up a knee injury that will see him miss 4-6 weeks on the side-line. Forwards James Fisher-Harris and Scott Sorensen also picked up knocks, but both players have been named in the first 17 although it’s expected they will need to pass fitness tests to take their places.
The big news to take out of Ivan Cleary’s 24-man squad he named on Tuesday, was the inclusion of his son and co-captain Nathan Cleary. Last year’s Clive Churchill medal winner undertook a full shoulder reconstruction after the Grand Final and has been rehabbing ever since with the aim of a speedy return. Cleary sat out the first two weeks of the season, but it will be interesting to see if the Panthers risk their best player so early in the campaign.Embed from Getty Images
Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Dominic Young 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Enari Tuala 6. Jake Clifford 7. Adam Clune 8. Jacob Saifiti 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitch Barnett 13. Kurt Mann 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jirah Momoisea 16. Leo Thompson 17. Mathew Croker 18. Simi Sasagi 19. Tex Hoy 20. Edrick Lee 21. Sauaso Sue 22. Dylan Lucas
Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien must be wondering what he has done to deserve the bad run of injuries the club has endured under his stewardship over the past two seasons. The Knights started the season with no-less than eight members of their NRL squad unavailable for their opening clash against the Roosters, and that number extended to 10 with the late scratchings of captain Kalyn Ponga and prop David Klemmer less than 24-hours before kick-off.
Klemmer has undertook knee surgery to ‘clean up’ some loose cartilage in his knee, and according to the bigman he will be out for 3-6 weeks. Starting edge forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon will also join him on the side-line, as he picked up a knee injury of his own and will miss a similar number of matches. Whilst Ponga has been named to return, there are huge doubts to whether he will take his place, with the Knights tending to take extra precaution with their key-player in recent years.
Referee: Peter Gough
Whilst many would have predicted that the Panthers would be heading into this clash undefeated, not many would have thought the Knights would also be 2-0 going into the season, and although it’s too early in the year for it to be classed as a genuine top of the table clash, it does lay the setting for an intriguing battle.
The Panthers are learning very quickly the difference between being the Hunters and being the Hunted, teams always save their best for the reigning champions, and to test themselves against the best. After getting off to an impressive start, the Knights will look to see how far they’ve really come after comprehensive wins over the Roosters and Tigers, they’ll need to step it up a gear this week.Embed from Getty Images
Newcastle have clearly had a big offseason, they look fitter and leaner which has helped solidify their defence, whilst they have worked on reshaping their attack, which was ranked 15th overall last season. A lot of their success in attack has come on the back of a simplified game plan, orchestrated by assistant coach and former club legend Andrew Johns, and delivered on the field by their new No.7 Adam Clune.
The former Dragons understudy to Ben Hunt as revelled under the coaching of Johns and has formed a great combination with halves partner Jake Clifford who’s started the season with two man of the match performances. Their combination has allowed all of their teammates around him to flourish, including star recruit Dane Gagai who has returned from the Rabbitohs. Gagai has been unstoppable in the first two rounds, but he comes up against another centre who has also impressed through the opening rounds.Embed from Getty Images
Penrith rookie Izack Tago has made such an impression in the Panthers’ first two wins, that the hole left by Matt Burton has barely been noticed. Tago has brought great physicality to his game in both attack and defence, which sets the scene for a mouthwatering clash of the ‘old bull versus young bull’ and one that could be major factor in deciding who wins this clash.
Another clash which is also worth the price of admission itself, is the battle between edge backrowers Tyson Frizell and Villiame Kikau. Both players will line up opposing each other and both have gotten off to a fast start in season 2022. Any concerns Penrith fans might have had about Kikau’s commitment heading into this year after he signed for the Bulldogs for 2023, have been put to rest after a couple of barnstorming performances. Whilst Frizell has also been a handful for the Knights, racking up impressive numbers in both attack and defence, whilst getting through 80 minutes on both occasions.Embed from Getty Images
Penrith and Newcastle have faced off 51 times since the Knights entered the competition in 1988, with honours even between the sides, the Knights have won 24 matches to Penrith’s 23, whilst they have had four draws in that time as well.
Panthers by 8
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