Rivalry reignites in the nation’s capital

James Fisher Harris in action against the Eels. Photo: NRL Images.
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After what was an intense, high energy game against Parramatta last round, Penrith will benefit from the eight-day turnaround afforded to them ahead of Friday’s clash against Canberra in the nation’s capital.

The Raiders have the opposite issue – they face a short turnaround after a trip to Newcastle on Sunday afternoon, where they fell to the Knights in a frustrating performance.

And to add to their problems, five-eighth Jack Wighton, who this week rocked the club by informing them he’ll be testing his value on the open market, finds himself on the sideline, a match review committee casualty of the defeat at McDonald Jones Stadium.

All is lined up for the Panthers to unleash in this twilight contest; to deliver the type of performance that saw them become the most feared, difficult to beat side in the competition over the past three years.

Panthers winger Brian To’o. Photo: NRL Images.

It’s been a slow start for Penrith but the reality is both of the side’s losses this year have been by a single point, and could have gone either way.

The Panthers’ defence has remained strong in their first three rounds, still only conceding two tries each game – it’s just the attack that needs to click, and you get the feeling it’s not far away from coming together.

Canberra have conceded an average of 20 points per game so far this season so they’ll need a much tighter defensive performance if they’re to be any chance of rocking the defending Premiers.

This is also a milestone game for co-captain Isaah Yeo, who plays his 200th first grade match in the same week he inked a deal that will ensure he remains a Panther for life.

It all points towards a big victory for Penrith.

Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo. Photo: NRL Images.

But Canberra are of course difficult to beat at home and the intense rivalry these two sides have developed in recent years plays a factor too – Ricky Stuart’s men will no doubt be fired up here in a mission to take down the Panthers.

Despite all the controversies this match-up has attracted in recent years, Penrith have allowed the scoreboard to do the talking. They’ve won the last four matches between the two sides and their previous two meetings saw Canberra only score one try. You have to go back to the 2019 season to find the last time the Panthers fell to the Raiders.

Coming off a loss, I’m expecting Penrith to set the tone early here and Moses Leota and James Fisher-Harris to carry the ball up plenty in the early stages.

If Penrith manage to get the early momentum, it’s hard to see Canberra containing the likes of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Dylan Edwards, who have all shined individually at different moments in games this year and just need things to click before the points will start coming.

Tensions boil over at BlueBet Stadium in 2021. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Ricky Stuart can start preparing his excuses and defence of his players now, because I can’t find a path to a Canberra victory here, unless there’s a catastrophic mid-game injury or Penrith somehow don’t turn up – which seems almost impossible to fathom.

Tip: Panthers by 18.

Penrith and Canberra do battle at GIO Stadium on Friday, March 31 at 6pm. The game is live on Fox League and Kayo Sports.

Troy Dodds

Troy Dodds is the Weekender's Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia's leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.

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