Before a ball was kicked this season many would have expected this Round 14 clash between Penrith and Canberra to be a top four blockbuster. Instead, both sides find themselves outside the top eight with the Panthers currently 10th and the Raiders a rung above on ninth, thanks to a marginally superior for and against.
While both sides have been a little disappointing this year, there’s no doubt that the Panthers have been the big improvers over the last month, winning their third straight game last weekend when they flattened Canterbury 38-0 at ANZ Stadium. The Raiders meanwhile remain in patchy form but were unlucky not to escape Lottoland with two competition points last Sunday, going down to Manly in extra time.
Everything points to a tight contest at Carrington Park in Bathurst on Saturday evening, and with a 5.30pm kickoff will come chilly conditions – not that either side isn’t used to that.
While Canterbury have put together some good performances at times this season, there’s little doubt that they were poor last week and the Panthers will face a much tougher opponent in the Raiders.
Canberra’s backline is full of point scoring potential and the Panthers will have to watch the likes of Joseph Leilua, Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker and in particular Jordan Rapana, who crossed for two tries in his side’s loss to Manly.
The Panthers will also have their hands full with Canberra’s talented halves pairing of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, who on their day can tear opposition sides to shreds. It’ll be a big test for Matt Moylan and Nathan Cleary.
But the Panthers have plenty to offer in terms of points themselves.
Things really clicked for Anthony Griffin’s men last week and it was no surprise to see Josh Mansour playing such a big part in the performance.
He ran for over 200 metres and showed just how much the Panthers have missed his kick returns and enthusiasm over the first few months of the competition. He’ll play a key role against the Raiders, giving the forwards a break particularly towards the back end of each half.
Talking of the forwards, Penrith’s big men steam rolled Canterbury last weekend and will come up against a Canberra pack that has been dealt a couple of significant blows with both Shannon Boyd and Dunamis Lui ruled out after picking up injuries against Manly.
While the flair and highlights will certainly come from the backs in this game, I’m expecting the forwards to determine the result, and the Panthers appear to have a slight edge. Trent Merrin has now reached full flight after a slow start to the season, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard looks like a man on a mission every time he runs the football.
James Tamou is also improving, while Isaah Yeo appears to have unleashed the best version of himself this year and has probably been Penrith’s most consistent and dominant player.
I’d like to see Tyrone Peachey used a little earlier and there’s clearly some issues with Viliame Kikau given his limited game time, but a consistent week to week squad should really start to help Penrith.
Tip: Panthers by 8.
Penrith and Canberra play at Carrington Park on Saturday, June 10 at 5.30pm.