Penrith Panthers vs Wests Tigers: Lineups, preview and prediction

Panthers Stadium, Thursday 17th May, 7.50pm AEST.

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Overview

The Penrith Panthers have defied the odds and a potentially crippling injury toll to sit second on the competition ladder, just two points behind the benchmark St George Illawarra Dragons, and they’ll be keen to add a further two points against a Tigers side which started the season in fine form but stumbled a little in recent weeks.

The Panthers do have some welcome relief in the form of halfback Nathan Cleary returning to face the club coached by his father Ivan, while brothers Dallin and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak will also square off, making for a family affair all around.

For their part, the Tigers bounced back into the winner’s circle with a solid effort at home against the North Queensland Cowboys and while they won’t be able to take the energy and atmosphere of a packed Leichhardt Oval with them this week, a good win will have settled some nerves at the club.

The Panthers also enter Round 11 on a high after a comprehensive 29-18 win over the Knights in Newcastle last Friday night.

Recent meetings

2017 – Penrith Panthers 28 def. Wests Tigers 14 at Panthers Stadium

2017 – Penrith Panthers 36 def. Wests Tigers 2 at Campbelltown Stadium

2016 – Penrith Panthers 40 def. Wests Tigers 10 at Panthers Stadium

2016 – Wests Tigers 34 def. Penrith Panthers 26 at ANZ Stadium

2015 – Penrith Panthers 35 def. Wests Tigers 12 at Leichhardt Oval

The Panthers boast a strong recent record against the Tigers, having won four of the last five clashes between the pair, including two wins last season.

2017 saw the Panthers trounce the Tigers 36-2 at a jam-packed Campbelltown Stadium, which matched their biggest ever winning margin against the joint-venture club.

Lineups

Penrith Panthers Wests Tigers
1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak Corey Thompson
2 Christian Crichton David Nofoaluma
3 Tyrone Peachey Esan Marsters
4 Dean Whare Kevin Naiqama
5 Tyrone Phillips Malakai Watene-Zelezniak
6 James Maloney Benji Marshall
7 Nathan Cleary Luke Brooks
8 Trent Merrin Russell Packer
9 Sione Katoa Elijah Taylor
10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard Ben Matulino
11 Corey Harawira-Naera Chris Lawrence
12 Isaah Yeo Robbie Rochow
13 James Fisher-Harris Matthew Eisenhuth
Interchange
14 Wayde Egan Alex Twal
15 Jack Hetherington Jacob Liddle
16 Viliame Kikau Michael Chee-Kam
17 James Tamou Sauaso Sue
Reserves
18 Jarome Luai Tim Grant
19 Kaide Ellis Chris McQueen
20 Tyrone May Josh Aloiai
21 Nick Lui-Toso Tyson Gamble

The facts that matter

Penrith Panthers

The Panthers looked a little frazzled and under the pump in their Round 9 loss to the Cowboys in Bathurst, but a Friday night win against the Knights has them seemingly back on track and still just two points off the ladder-leading Dragons.

Heading into Round 11, the Panthers are still suffering one of the biggest injury clouds in the league but despite having a raft of big-name stars and first grade quality talent sitting on the sideline each week, they have managed to defy the odds and churn out wins consistently enough to keep pace with the top end of town.

A chilly Thursday night at home looms at the foot of the mountains, with the Panthers likely set for another nail-biter in front of a good crowd at Panthers Stadium.

The return of Nathan Cleary has taken much of the headlines and with a couple of opportunities to press his claims for a maiden Origin berth, there’s plenty of expectation that the young halfback will slot straight back in and return to being a dominant playmaker and controlling presence.

The chance for Cleary and James Maloney to continue building their budding partnership is also a huge boost for both the Panthers and the New South Wales Blues.

With Cleary returning to the halves, Tyrone Peachey slots into the centres allowing Isaah Yeo to move back to the second row and big Bill Kikau to the bench where he could provide some big-time impact.

Hooker and captain Peter Wallace will be unavailable through injury, so Sione Katoa is named to start at rake while Lithgow junior Wayde Egan is a dummy-half option off the bench. Jack Hetherington returns from suspension which sees Kaide Ellis and Jarome Luai drop back to the reserves.

Wests Tigers

Everything good the Tigers have done in 2018 has come off the back of patient build-up play and the right amount of playmaking and direction from Luke Brooks and an ageless Benji Marshall and that’ll need to be the same this week if the Tigers are to upset the red-hot Panthers on the road.

Brooks has been in career-best form and his ability to take the line on and create havoc against a broken defensive line has created a number of opportunities for the Tigers this year. Penrith will do well to nullify the impact of the little halfback and his bag of tricks.

Before last week’s win at Leichhardt Oval, the critics were starting to question the mental toughness and overall ability of this Tiger’s outfit and while they went a long way to crushing any concern over the first issue, the latter is still on the table.

As ready and willing as the Tigers are for the fight, there are still questions over the sustainability of their offensive unit.

Ivan Cleary is famous for instilling a tireless work ethic and a ‘team first’ approach to football and the Tigers are certainly adapting to that philosophy, so regardless of the contest on Thursday night, they’ll be there in the fight once more.

Nowhere is this strict adherence to culture seen better than the player-inspired decision to dump Mahe Fonua. The cult-hero back turned up late for training through the week and has paid the price with the first grade gig this week.

Fonua’s dropping sees Kevin Naiqama return to the side in the only change from the 17 that beat North Queensland last weekend.

Prediction

They’re riddled with injuries and struggling to name the same squad week to week, but the return of Nathan Cleary looms as a major boost for the Panthers this week.

Losing captain Peter Wallace to injury will leave a big defensive workload for those named to take up, but despite their obvious issues, the Panthers still sit second on the ladder and seem to have the ability to eek out wins against the odds.

The Tigers are a tough, committed unit and they’ll make for a good game, but I’ve got to tip the Panthers at home. Penrith by 10.

Who will claim the first competition points on offer for Round 11, the Panthers or Tigers? Let us know in the comments and poll below.


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