Just how much difference does a week make in the NRL?
We’re about to find out as the Penrith Panthers and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles flock to Allianz Stadium for a repeat of their round 26 clash last week.
The Sea Eagles utterly dominated the Panthers on that occasion, storming out to a 28-0 lead before a couple of late Penrith tries saw the game finish 28-12.
Panthers mentor Anthony ‘Hook’ Griffin and club supremo Phil Gould spent a large part of the last week dealing with the fallout from issues with captain Matt Moylan while also trying to prepare the troops for a better performance. In contrast, the Sea Eagles will have been content to go through the motions and maintain fitness ahead of a return to the finals for the first time since 2014.
Penrith themselves come into back-to-back finals for the first time since 2003-2004 and while they may not have lived up to pre-season talk of Grand Finals and Premiership success, there remains a school of thought that their young talent are on the verge of a major breakthrough.
The Sea Eagles will be hoping a change of scenery away from their traditional base at Brookvale doesn’t have too much of an impact on how they approach this one.
With both sides naming the same sides as last week, this one could be a fascinating experiment into just how quickly things can be turned around in the NRL.
2017 – Rd 26 Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 28 def. Penrith Panthers 12 at Lottoland
2017 – Rd 18 Penrith Panthers 16 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 8 at Pepper Stadium
2016 – Rd 26 Penrith Panthers 36 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 6 at Pepper Stadium
2016 – Rd 14 Penrith Panthers 31 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24 at Lottoland
2015 – Rd 10 Penrith Panthers 11 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 10 at Lottoland
The Sea Eagles romped to victory over Penrith last week but the Panthers had won the previous five meetings between the two sides before that.
The Panthers have held a strong edge over the Sea Eagles, with the western Sydney side claiming victory in seven of the last nine meetings between the pair.
|MANLY-WARRINGAH SEA EAGLES||PENRITH PANTHERS|
|Tom Trbojevic||1||1||Dean Whare|
|Matthew Wright||2||2||Josh Mansour|
|Dylan Walker||3||3||Tyrone Peachey|
|Brian Kelly||4||4||Waqa Blake|
|Akuila Uate||5||5||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|Blake Green||6||6||Tyrone May|
|Daly Cherry-Evans||7||7||Nathan Cleary|
|Darcy Lussick||8||8||James Tamou|
|Apisai Koroisau||9||9||Peter Wallace|
|Martin Taupau||10||10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|Frank Winterstein||11||11||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|Curtis Sironen||12||12||Isaah Yeo|
|Jake Trbojevic||13||13||Trent Merrin|
|Lewis Brown||14||14||Sione Katoa|
|Lloyd Perrett||15||15||Bryce Cartwright|
|Brenton Lawrence||16||16||Tim Browne|
|Addin Fonua-Blake||17||17||James Fisher-Harris|
|Shaun Lane||18||18||Moses Leota|
|Cameron Cullen||19||19||Viliame Kikau|
|Jarrad Kennedy||20||20||Dylan Edwards|
|Kelepi Tanginoa||21||21||Jarome Luai|
The Facts That Matter
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles have found form and look to be peaking at the perfect time after putting some on and off-field issues behind them. They’ll be the hot favourites to keep their run going against a Penrith side who they dominated just a week ago.
Having been tipped to struggle in 2017, most Manly fans would’ve been happy just to have got to the finals at this point in the year. But now that they’re there, there’s no way they or the playing group will settle for anything less than a win against the Westies from underneath the Blue Mountains.
Head coach Trent Barrett has named an unchanged line-up from the side that beat Penrith last week, with prop Darcy Lussick escaping a suspension for a fairly blatant trip on Penrith captain Peter Wallace.
Lussick, Martin Taupau and Jake Trbojevic dominated the middle third of the park, allowing their attack to focus on beating the Panthers on the fringes. Centre Brian Kelly, in particular, made it a torrid night for Penrith’s Waqa Blake, who looked lost and struggled to combat what the Sea Eagles put on.
Manly set the tone with plenty of possession and a good completion rate which starved the Panthers of the footy. They didn’t allow Penrith to get a foothold in the game and Barrett will want a similar display this time around.
The early exchanges could be key, with the typically slow-starting Panthers left with too much work to do last week after a strong opening period from their hosts.
The Sea Eagles will also expect plenty of familiar magic from their spine, which has grown in stature and composure week to week. Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans are building a partnership reminiscent of DCE’s time with Brett Stewart while Blake Green provides a tremendous short-kicking game and Api Koroisau is in the best form of his career.
Coach Griffin has come under fire for the way he sets his side up for games, with critics suggesting the Panthers are lacking in impact through the middle and a bit of fire in their belly. The latter should be provided through the nature of last week’s defeat while Griffin will be demanding a far-improved display.
Penrith captain Moylan will be missing in action for the Panthers due to his well-publicised issues which means Peter Wallace will continue with the captaincy duties as the senior head of the side. Star fullback Dylan Edwards is in with a minor chance of returning to the field after battling a knee injury.
Whether Edwards returns or not will play a key role in how the Panthers line-up come kick-off. If he does, he will take the number one jersey will Dean Whare likely to drop out of the 17.
Whare started out at the back against Manly, but there remains a belief that Dallin Watene-Zelezniak represents a better fullback option in the short term.
The Panthers finished strongly last weekend and while some of that can be attributed to the Sea Eagles taking their foot off the gas, they will look to build on their late efforts this weekend.
This is arguably the toughest game of the round to predict.
After last week’s meeting, it would be easy to suggest that the Sea Eagles will ease to victory but the chances of the Panthers putting in a similarly poor showing are slim.
There’s enough quality in the Penrith back line to cause Manly issues if the forward pack can set the tone. James Tamou, Trent Merrin and Reagan Campbell-Gillard will need to step up their games and take on the Sea Eagles pack head first.
Penrith by less than four points.
Who do you think will win this huge Saturday night finals blockbuster, the Sea Eagles or the Panthers? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
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