In the Saturday afternoon fixture for Round 16, the third-placed Penrith Panthers host the Manly Sea Eagles who are, in stark contrast, in third-last position on the NRL ladder. While the Panthers ladder position still looks healthy, they will be eager to bounce back from a disappointing 32-6 loss to the Sydney Roosters last start. In contrast, the turmoil-ridden Sea Eagles are only a mathematical possibility of playing finals this season.
The Panthers pre-origin form was superb when they kept Wests Tigers and St. George-Illawarra Dragons try-less in consecutive weeks at home. However their 23-22 win in Canberra was not so impressive and they were out-muscled and outplayed by the Roosters, so they will be happy to be back at Penrith Stadium where they are unbeaten this season. Penrith fans will be hoping that New South Wales Origin series winning trio James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, and Tyrone Peachey all back up as they look to stay firmly in the minor premiership race.
Manly did appear to be turning their season around when they won impressively in consecutive weeks away from home against Brisbane and Melbourne, but off-field dramas, injury problems, and poor performances have contributed to their current four-game losing streak. Barring a miraculous winning run they are only playing for pride for the rest of 2018.
2017 Elimination Final - Panthers def. Sea Eagles 22-10 at Sydney Football Stadium
2017 - Sea Eagles def. Panthers 28-12 at Lottoland
2017 - Panthers def. Sea Eagles 16-8 at Panthers Stadium
2016 - Panthers def Sea Eagles 36-6 at Panthers Stadium
2016 - Panthers def. Sea Eagles 31-24 at Lottoland
There should be feeling between these two clubs after the Panthers knocked the Sea Eagles out of last year’s finals series, despite being well and truly outplayed the week before. Manly ambushed Penrith in Round 26 last year at Lottoland, leading 28-0 at one stage. Yet history shows the Panthers had the last laugh winning the finals game on neutral turf, with a controversial try to Tyrone Peachey one of the main talking points of the game.
The Panthers have won 6 of their past 7 games against Manly and haven’t lost to the Sea Eagles at home since 2011.
|Penrith Panthers||Manly Sea Eagles|
|1||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||Tom Trbojevic|
|2||Christian Crichton||Jorge Taufua|
|3||Tyrone Peachey||Moses Suli|
|4||Dean Whare||Brian Kelly|
|5||Tyrone Phillips||Brad Parker|
|6||James Maloney||Dylan Walker|
|7||Nathan Cleary||Daly Cherry-Evans|
|8||Trent Merrin||Addin Fonua-Blake|
|9||Sione Katoa||Manase Fainu|
|10||James Tamou||Martin Taupau|
|11||Viliame Kikau||Joel Thompson|
|12||Isaah Yeo||Frank Winterstein|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Jake Trbojevic|
|14||Wayde Egan||Trent Hodkinson|
|15||Kaide Ellis||Matthew Wright|
|16||Jack Hetherington||Shaun Lane|
|17||Moses Leota||Taniela Paseka|
|18||Jarome Luai||Tom Wright|
|19||Liam Martin||Kelepi Tanginoa|
|20||Tyrone May||Toafofoa Sipley|
|21||Nick Lui-Toso||Lloyd Perrett|
Anthony Griffin’s men will be wary of the importance of this clash at Panthers Stadium, with the Panthers still struggling on the injury front, having lost representative prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard with a broken jaw in the loss to the Roosters. The experienced James Tamou comes into the starting prop position in his place. Second rower Corey Harawira-Naera is also out but in welcome news talented back rower Viliame Kikau returns from injury for the Mountain Men.
All the Panthers representative players on Origin and Test duty have been passed fit to play.
Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles have been dealt a further injury blow with winger Akuila Uate’s season over due to an ankle injury. Brad Parker replaces him in the run on side. Young Manase Fainu has again been named at hooker with Matt Wright on the bench. In a boost for Trent Barrett’s squad, Dylan Walker returns from injury to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves.
The Facts that matter
With 10 wins and 4 losses, the Panthers are in the best position they’ve been at this stage of the season since 2010 and they won’t want to waste it.
Coach Anthony Griffin has done a remarkable job considering the persistent injury toll that has plagued the team, with the experience and class of James Maloney proving vital while halfback Nathan Cleary was out for 8 weeks and similarly Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has been doing a fine job at fullback since Dylan Edwards was ruled out for the season.
The Panthers should still be wary of their slow starts which they appeared to have overcome in their wins over the Knights, Tigers and Dragons but they were slow out of the blocks against Canberra despite coming home strong to snatch victory. The Roosters put 18 points on them early in Round 15 and they weren’t able to recover.
The Panthers have dropped games to the lowly Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys this season so they will need to guard against complacency when facing the 14th placed Sea Eagles. However, they should be full of confidence at Panthers Stadium where they have won 6 games from 6 this season.
Manly suffered a heartbreaking 21-20 loss to Canberra in Round 12, just when it looked like they might turn their season around. Instead, they have suffered convincing losses to the Cowboys, Warriors and Dragons.
Trent Barrett’s men have been unlucky with injuries, notably with the season-ending injury to hooker Api Koroisau but have also been their own worst enemies with a lack of discipline with the ball and poor kicking game.
Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans leadership and game management has been called into question and he has to start guiding his injury-plagued team around the park if they are to restore pride in the coming weeks.
Penrith should be excited about this Saturday Afternoon clash in what should be another good crowd at Panthers Stadium. The Panthers will miss the powerful runs of prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard but still have the quality and experience to get on top of the Sea Eagles pack. If they can do that, they need James Maloney and Nathan Cleary to spark the backline. The Sea Eagles have been disappointing but can still be dangerous if Cherry Evans and the Trbojevic brothers play to their potential. However, the Panthers will be boosted by the home crowd and have more to play for.
Penrith by 12 points.
Can the Panthers bounce back from their last-start loss with a win at home, or will the Sea Eagles upset the apple cart at the foot of the mountains? Let us know in the comments below.