Panthers v Manly preview

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It would appear the Panthers have forgotten how to win at home.

In fact, we haven’t won an NRL contest at Centrebet Stadium since that memorable golden point victory over the Eels in Round 19 last season. That’s six home games ago.

It’s lucky, then, that away form has been much better, because this week the Panthers head to Brookvale Oval to take on the reigning premiers, the Manly Sea Eagles.

Manly have been out of form, no doubt about it, though the loss of key personnel including Glenn Stewart, Jamie Lyon, Tony Williams and Joe Galuvao has been the key reason for that.

But full complement of troops or not, if there’s one NRL team for whom the home ground is indeed a fortress… it’s Manly.

They were undefeated at Brookie last season, and with the ground recently undergoing renovations, this will be the Eagles’ first home hit-out of 2012.

Mark my words – that will make them very, very tough to beat.

Exactly how tough depends a lot on the fitness of their players – Jamie Lyon, Brett Stewart and Kieran Foran are all carrying knocks and will be given until kick-off on Monday night to prove their fitness, but I’d be backing them to play.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have named the same team that lost by a single point to the Sharks last week.

After an ordinary first half, the Panthers played a near perfect 30 minutes in the second period and brought themselves into a position where they could have – and should have – closed out the contest.

Unfortunately, some late lapses in concentration saw them fail, and coach Ivan Cleary will be looking for a more complete performance this time around.

Penrith had a lot of success attacking the flanks against the Sharks, and if Lyon is ruled out with injury that will leave the Eagles with a couple of youngsters defending out wide – making that an enticing prospect once again.

With only two specialist props in the Panthers’ forward rotation, you can expect to see plenty of wide ball anyway.

Michael Jennings in particular made plenty of metres on the flanks last week, and his form continues to be a shining light of the season so far.

I also thought the Panthers looked at their most dangerous when Blake Austin was on the field.

Having that extra ball player in attack really put the Sharks in two minds and it was good to see the youngster get some decent minutes on the park.

And don’t be surprised if Tim Grant makes a shock return, despite not being named for the Panthers.

Can the Panthers continue their 100 per cent away record in 2012, or will the Eagles at Fortress Brookvale prove too much to handle?

We’ve got a whole weekend of footy to ponder that question before we get down to business on Monday night!

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