Penrith roared back into form last weekend with an intense dismantling of the Melbourne Storm, while the Roosters eased some of the concerns their fans have had after their start to the season.
It all makes for an intriguing match-up at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night, as the Panthers aim to stay on top of the competition and their opponents look to consolidate a top four spot.
The Panthers would have taken enormous confidence out of last week’s win over Melbourne. After the slip-up against the Eels the week prior, it was a reassurance that the side’s Premiership defence is well and truly on track.
And it also saw a couple of players return to their best form, namely Viliame Kikau and Jarome Luai. Kikau, now playing 80 minutes a week, is finally settling into a role that doesn’t just involve him getting the ball and crashing towards the line. His leap for a try in the early stages of last weekend’s game was the kind of play that will continue to devastate oppositions.
The Panthers starved Melbourne of possession last weekend, with 62 per cent of the ball and a completion rate of 81 per cent. They forced errors and frustrated the Storm, something Craig Bellamy’s side can be guilty of on the rare occasions they fall behind in games early.
The Panthers will again aim to respect the footy and dominate possession this weekend, as they have done for much of the season. In fact no side wins the possession battle more than Penrith.
After a shaky opening two months of the season, the Roosters have shown signs of a mid-season run in the past two weeks, demolishing the Titans and never really looking in doubt against the Eels, despite a second half comeback from Brad Arthur’s team.
James Tedesco is finding form heading towards the State of Origin series, while Sam Walker and Luke Keary had one of the better games together last weekend as the Roosters strive to get that halves combination settled.
Coach Trent Robinson will be hoping there’s no backward step for Walker and Keary this weekend as they come up against the best halves in the competition, both fresh from solid performances.
In a blow for the Roosters, Victor Radley will be missing due to an ankle injury, while the Panthers will again field a full-strength side at the SCG on Saturday night.
I’m expecting an intense forward battle. The clash of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho with James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota will be worth the admission price alone. And Kikau, who knows what he’ll do given he’s found some confidence and form.
In the end, Penrith’s defence – the best in the competition by far – will be enough to get them home here. Penrith looked sharp, in focus and switched on last weekend – and there’s no reason to think they won’t take the same attitude into this one.
The Roosters will be buoyed by the home ground advantage and last week’s solid win over Parramatta, but the Panthers are just looking too good at the moment and I can’t see them slipping up here, especially on the back of last week’s impressive win.
Tip: Panthers by 10.
The Panthers and Roosters clash at the SCG on Saturday, May 21 at 7.35pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.