Two sides with differing Round 1 fortunes clash this Sunday when the Penrith Panthers take on the Sydney City Roosters at the newly named Allianz Stadium.
The Roosters pulled a rabbit out of a hat (or perhaps two points out of a rabbit) when they scored twice in the dying minutes to defeat the Bunnies at ANZ Stadium on Monday night.
The Panthers, on the other hand, had plenty of opportunities to put the Bulldogs down before conceding two late tries of their own to go down 22-14.
It has been the Roosters who have dominated this fixture in recent times, winning eight from 13 against the Panthers since the memorable grand final showdown of 2003.
The east vs west rivalry hasn’t waned since, and with both sides featuring heavily in betting for this year’s wooden spoon, both will be looking to prove their doubters wrong.
Penrith have lost Michael Gordon for three months with a fractured fibula, while David Simmons also misses out following his concussion at the hands – well, shoulder – of Frank Pritchard.
That forces a reshuffle in the backline that sees the return of Sandor Earl and the Penrith debut of Eels import Etu Uaisele.
Braith Anasta returns for the tri-colours, and there is also strong talk the centre pairing of Shaun Kenny-Dowall and highly lauded rookie Tautau Moga will participate, despite not being named earlier in the week.
Without doubt, this is a highly winnable game for Penrith, and it is a game they must win if they are to shed the unenviable tag of wooden spoon contenders.
It’s a short turnaround for the Roosters following a highly physical clash with the Rabbitohs, and that will surely work in the Panthers’ favour.
What won’t work is over-reliance on the high ball.
Penrith showed a keenness to bomb Benny Barba last week, but with Anthony Minichiello one of the best defusers in the game, a different approach will be required this time around.
That approach needs to include better service from dummy half – last week Luke Walsh simply wasn’t given enough time with the ball. Some early ball to the wide men, particularly Michael Jennings, would be great to see.
Indeed, one positive Panthers fans can take from last week was the try to Jennings. After a shocking 2011, he needed early runs on the board as he seeks to return to the form we know he’s capable of.
The Panthers looked strongest when Tim Grant and Sam McKendry were on the field, and the two big front rowers will need to produce big performances again to lay the foundation for victory.
Will Penrith be able to overcome last week’s capitulation to the Bulldogs and give the Roosters the same treatment they gave them in the 2003 grand final? Tune in on Sunday to find out!