Two of Sydney's biggest clubs meet this Friday night in ANZAC round as the Penrith Panthers welcome the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to Panthers Stadium.
Both sides are looking to bounce back after round seven losses. The Bulldogs went down 6-0 in a tight affair against the Sydney Roosters while the Panthers couldn't chase down a depleted Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks as they fell 26-22.
The two teams have already met this season with the Bulldogs handing the Panthers their first loss of the season in the form of a 20-18 scoreline. The boys from the foot of the mountain will look to exact revenge this time on home territory.
There were rumblings of a return for star halfback Nathan Cleary but it looks like Panthers and NSW fans will have to wait at least another week for his return.
Round 3, 2018: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs def. Penrith Panthers 20-18.
Round 21, 2017: Penrith Panthers def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16-8.
Round 13, 2017: Penrith Panthers def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 38-0.
Qualifying Final, 2016: Penrith Panthers def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 28-12.
Round 2, 2016: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs def. Penrith Panthers 18-16.
With the change in the draw this season which seems to see teams play each other twice early in a season, the two sides clashed back in round three. Having come off two comeback wins in the opening rounds, confidence was high for Penrith. However, an injury to Nathan Cleary ruled him out for the second half and they could not chase the Bulldogs half-time lead.
The two teams from the West have met on 93 occasions with the Bulldogs having a commanding lead in wins over the Panthers 52-38 with three draws in that time. Interestingly, it seems the Panthers have most of their struggles on the road as the 45 games at Panthers Stadium it is quite even. The Bulldogs still hold the lead but it is much closer as it reads 23-21 with one draw.
|Penrith Panthers||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs|
|1||Dylan Edwards||Moses Mbye|
|2||Christian Crichton||Brett Morris|
|3||Corey Harawira-Naera||Josh Morris|
|4||Dean Whare||Will Hopoate|
|5||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||Marcelo Montoya|
|6||Tyrone Peachey||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|7||James Maloney||Kieran Foran|
|8||Trent Merrin||Aaron Woods|
|9||Peter Wallace||Michael Lichaa|
|10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||David Klemmer|
|11||Viliame Kikau||Josh Jackson|
|12||Isaah Yeo||Raymond Faitala-Mariner|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Adam Elliott|
|14||Sione Katoa||Asipeli Fine|
|15||Jack Hetherington||Danny Fualalo|
|16||Moses Leota||Greg Eastwood|
|17||James Tamou||Kerrod Holland|
|18||Wayde Egan||John Olive|
|19||Nick Lui-Toso||Rhyse Martin|
|20||Thomas Eisenhuth||Renouf To'omaga|
|21||Kaide Ellis||Matthew Frawley|
The facts that matter
When Cleary went down in the fixture earlier in the year, there were concerns that the Panthers would drop off in form without the young playmaker. However, that has been far from the case. 2018 recruit, James Maloney, has stepped up in a big way and showed why Penrith were willing to let go of local junior Matt Moylan in the off-season for the premiership-winning half.
Despite being five from seven to start the season, their record could look very different had it not been for their ability to chase down sides late in the game. They finished fast to chase down the Eels and Souths before their loss against the Bulldogs and even last weekend playing the Sharks they got within a whisker after a fast finish. If they want to be a genuine premiership contender, then they can't afford to give teams a start in big games because they can punish them and run away with the game. Perhaps Anthony Griffin needs to use his half-time speech before the game to motivate the team?
Dean Pay has tried to mould this Bulldogs team after taking over from Des Hasler in the off-season. One of the best decisions the rookie coach has made is shifting Moses Mbye to fullback. The former half was always known for his running game when playing in the six and seven jerseys but few could have predicted his ability to adapt so quickly to the new role. He consistently breaks the line and looks dangerous every time he is around the ball. The Panthers found that out the hard way in round three when he crossed for two tries in a star performance.
Pay has also vowed to bring back the 'Dogs of War' mentality but we haven't seen too much of that this season. Raymond Faitala-Mariner has been a standout, but he is an edge forward so the platform should be placed by those in the engine room in Aaron Woods and David Klemmer. Klemmer has been doing his job well and leads the league in post-contact metres but Woods is yet to find his best. After forcing out their inspirational leader, James Graham, who led from the front, a lot of pressure is on Woods to replace him. There is still plenty of time to deliver and with Origin time coming up there is no better time than this weekend.
Looking at the bench of both sides, it is worrying the lack of experience in the rotation. Aside from James Tamou and Greg Eastwood, there are few games between the remaining players. The Panthers have been hit hard with injury but their forward pack still packs a punch. Viliame Kikau has been a standout and is running over edge defenders like they aren't even there. If he has another big game alongside Campbell-Gillard, Merrin and Fisher-Harris then that will go a long way to a Panthers win.
It is a short turnaround for the home side but I can't see the visitors leaving Penrith with the two points because of their indifferent form and struggles in attack. Not expecting a blowout but Panthers should sneak in for the victory. Panthers by 6.