Panthers back home for Easter Saturday showdown with Sea Eagles

Scott Sorensen. Photo: NRL Images.
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The Panthers return home after a few weeks on the road buoyed by a strong performance against Canberra last Friday night, in which they well and truly got their point scoring mojo back.

And perhaps more impressive in the 53-12 flogging was that yet again, Penrith’s rock solid defence conceded only two tries for the fourth consecutive game this season.

That defence will be well and truly tested by Manly this Saturday, with the Sea Eagles having scored more than 30 points in three of their four games this year, including last week’s 32-all draw with Newcastle.

That clash with the Knights was highly entertaining but Manly’s defence was nothing short of poor, and in the end they were probably lucky to escape with the point they did.

Just how much of an impact the slug fest has on the side, particularly given it went the full 90 minutes, will be an intriguing part of the Easter Saturday clash at BlueBet Stadium.

The Panthers celebrate a try against the Raiders. Photo: NRL Images.

Indeed this game will probably be a good indicator of where both Penrith and Manly are at – the Panthers were certainly impressive against the Raiders but the opposition offered very little in the second half. The Sea Eagles sit in fourth spot on the ladder but have been far from convincing in any of their games so far.

The big blow for Penrith in this one is the loss of James Fisher-Harris to a knee injury. It’ll hurt the forward rotation significantly, but not wanting to disrupt his bench too much, Ivan Cleary has opted to start Matt Eisenhuth and keep Spencer Leniu on the interchange.

Leniu will however likely get more minutes than his average. The fact he recorded 42 minutes against the Raiders – the most of the season so far – is a good sign that there’s petrol in the tank.

Liam Martin’s problematic hamstring will keep him out for another week, forcing Cleary to go with Scott Sorensen and Zac Hosking in the second row, given Luke Garner is also hurt.

Soni Luke returns on the bench after a week out due to concussion, and while Tyrone Peachey made a solid return to first grade last weekend, there’s no denying that inserting the energy of Luke into a tight game can be a match-winning move.

In terms of Penrith’s schedule this is a critical match.

Nathan Cleary in action against Canberra. Photo: NRL Images.

After this Easter Saturday showdown, they hit the road for clashes against Newcastle, Souths, Wests Tigers (a home game in Bathurst) and the Warriors before finally returning to Penrith on May 12.

And while the Panthers have a strong record away from home, there’s no doubt such a schedule – which involves travel to Newcastle, Brisbane and regional New South Wales – can take its toll, hence any chance to grab two points at home is important during this part of the season.

I think Manly will put up plenty of fight here and there’s no question they’ve got ability right across the park, but Penrith should come into the game fresher and with home ground advantage.

A tight one, but Penrith should get the Easter chocolates.

Tip: Panthers by 6.

Penrith and Manly play at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday, April 8 at 5.30pm. The game is live on Fox Sports and Kayo.

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