Panthers face hurting Green Machine

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Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has probably let a few expletives flow from his mouth in recent weeks but nothing could be worse than the C word.

And by C word, I mean CRISIS.

While coach Stuart watches the Parramatta side he took to a wooden spoon last season emerge from the depths of the NRL basement, his pain is further compounded by the amateur performances displayed by his Canberra Raiders over the past two matches.

They’ve had 108 points put on them in the space of two matches thanks to a 54-18 thrashing at the hands of Manly and a 54-12 loss to the Warriors last week. They looked disjointed, disinterested and totally outclassed in both games.

It’s safe to say that the Raiders will turn things around at some point. In fact, it was only a month ago they produced a solid performance to down Melbourne 24-22 at Canberra Stadium.

And it is that performance against the Storm that Ivan Cleary should be focusing on this week – not the losses to Manly and the Warriors.

The closeness of the NRL competition means that it’s easy for teams to bounce back, and given Canberra’s problems primarily look to be in their preparation, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see the broken down Green Machine back in some sort of normal operation as quickly as Sunday.

Stuart is probably one more big loss away from making wholesale changes to his team, and to that end he has spared captain Terry Campese the axe this weekend. Campese is struggling big time but it’s understood he had a heart to heart with Stuart during the week, which may spark him into action against the Panthers.

Penrith have already played Canberra once this season and fought out a 12-6 victory at Sportingbet Stadium, but horrible conditions on the night mean there’s no real form line to take from the game.

The Panthers were impressive in demolishing Newcastle 32-10 last Sunday, with Jamie Soward, Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour having particularly good games. The task this weekend is to win two games in a row – something the side hasn’t done all season. In fact, the win/loss/win/loss pattern is now a major talking point in the game and the sooner the Panthers manage to break the pattern, the better.

Penrith do have some injury concerns to worry about and there’s a chance that the team named by Ivan Cleary on Tuesday may change before Sunday’s kick-off.

James Segeyaro has again been named to start at hooker, with Kevin Kingston’s ankle injury clearly worse than first thought. Many fans won’t be complaining and Segeyaro certainly won’t be as he has made it very clear he wants to become an 80 minute player sooner rather than later.

Nigel Plum hasn’t been named after being knocked out last week but has been replaced by Tim Grant who returns from injury, so really the Panthers have lost nothing up front compared to the team they fielded against Newcastle.

Adam Docker has been named at lock but was injured last weekend and surely is in some doubt heading into this one.

If he’s out, it could force a re-shuffle that would see Tyrone Peachey play at lock and Ben Murdoch-Masila potentially make his Panthers NRL debut.

Injuries to key men are starting to test the Panthers but at this stage, coach Cleary has been able to cover it.

Isaac John being ruled out for the season robs Cleary of his back-up plan in the halves, but poses no week-to-week problem unless something goes wrong with Jamie Soward or Peter Wallace. In short, Penrith are coping with their problems.

Penrith have enough quality across the park to put a big score on Canberra. Playing their own game and not worrying about whether Canberra do or don’t turn up will be the big key to ensuring the team bus ride back to Sydney’s west is an enjoyable one.

Tip: Panthers by 14.

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