Panthers go regional as blockbuster clash with Benny’s Bunnies looms

Api Koroisau. Photo: NRL Photos.
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Next stop for the Penrith magic act after a successful visit to Suncorp Stadium is regional NSW and a clash with fellow premiership contenders South Sydney.

Dubbo is the venue for what has turned out to be the match of the round, with the Panthers chasing 11 straight wins to start the season and the Rabbitohs welcoming back Latrell Mitchell from suspension.

It is probably Penrith’s toughest match since the round three clash with Melbourne at Panthers Stadium and comes at the perfect time after two comfortable victories over Cronulla and the Gold Coast respectively.

While piling on close to 50 points against opponents is plenty of fun and a relaxing ride for fans, it’s not the best preparation for the business end of the season, hence why Ivan Cleary and co would be relishing the opportunity to tackle Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs on Sunday.

Whether Souths are looking forward to tackling the incredible football machine that is Penrith is another matter.

Moses Leota is in strong form. Photo: NRL Photos.

The Panthers look unbeatable at present, ably led by Nathan Cleary who is in career-best form and producing moments of magic that no other halfback in the competition can deliver.

And he’s being helped by one of the most dangerous forward packs in the competition too, with James Fisher-Harris in particular in beast mode at present and Moses Leota not far behind.

It’s pretty good when you consider that Penrith’s potentially most potent forward weapon, Viliame Kikau, has been relatively quiet in recent games, though he did have a try robbed from him last week in the most ridiculous of circumstances.

The Rabbitohs are certainly no slouches and will offer Penrith plenty of competition on Sunday.

With his future now settled, halfback Adam Reynolds can concentrate on what’s happening on the field and there’s no doubt his mind will be on delivering another trophy to Redfern before his time at the club comes to an end.

Meantime Cody Walker is in try-scoring form and his battle with Jarome Luai – probably better suited to a dance floor than a footy field – will be entertaining and enthralling to watch.

But the real focus is likely to be on Mitchell, the one-time favourite for the Dally M Award who most predicted was on track for a stunning season this year.

Latrell Mitchell returns for Souths. Photo: NRL Photos.

He’s certainly shown signs of his best but whether or not he needs another game or two to find his legs is a question that will only be answered a few minutes before four o’clock on Sunday.

Mitchell should at least return some rhythm to the Rabbitohs’ backline, which has been somewhat hit and miss over the last fortnight.

It’s worth noting that Cronulla managed to put 22 points on Souths last weekend but couldn’t cross the line once against Penrith’s fortress-like defence the week prior. If you’re into form lines, that’s a pretty good one to follow.

This will be a much closer game than Penrith fans have become used to in recent times, but the side’s form shows no sign of slipping here.

The cardiac unit at Nepean Hospital may be back on stand by, but the Panthers should get home, even they’re given a little scare along the way.

Tip: Panthers by 8.

Penrith and South Sydney play on Sunday, May 23 at 2pm at Apex Oval, Dubbo.

Brian To’o in action against the Titans. Photo: NRL Photos.

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