History as Panthers and Dolphins clash for first time

Lindsay Smith in action against Melbourne. Photo: NRL Images.
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A little bit of history will be made in Redcliffe this Sunday afternoon when the Panthers and Dolphins play for the first time in history.

A lot of fans have had their eye on this Round 20 clash for some time, keen to see a new rugby league match-up at a venue that has actually been kind to Penrith in the past.

Yes, that’s right – the Panthers are no strangers to Kayo Stadium. They may not have played the Dolphins before but during the COVID-impacted 2021 and 2022 seasons, they took on both the Tigers and Warriors at the venue – recording big wins on both occasions.

Things will be a little different this time, however, and there’s no doubt 10,000 screaming Dolphins fans will dominate the crowd. The match has been a sellout for some time, such is the interest in seeing the NRL’s newest franchise play the defending champions.

Penrith come into this game fresh off a bye but with question marks surrounding several players who took part in State of Origin on Wednesday night. Whether Ivan Cleary opts to rest some of his big names one final time before the charge towards September is unlikely to be known fully until 24 hours before kick-off.

One thing we can expect is a reunion in the halves, with Jarome Luai being left out of Origin III on Wednesday night and Nathan Cleary set to make his return from a hamstring injury.

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

Cleary’s return (if it happens, given he’s been named on the extended bench) will be a welcome one, though it can’t be denied Jack Cogger has done a sensational job filling in over the last little while. However, with some big matches coming up, Penrith need solid game management and a dominant kicking game and Cleary’s return will ensure that as the Finals approach.

The Dolphins continue to impress this year, and the while the wheels fell off mid-season and a Finals appearance now appears unlikely, you can’t deny that Wayne Bennett’s side has been more competitive than most expected.

Last week’s golden point win over the Titans was an example of the grit and determination they play with, coming from 14-6 down at the break to hang on for an impressive win that will give them an extra ounce of confidence heading into Sunday’s clash with Penrith.

One thing is for sure: the Dolphins will not be daunted by the prospect of playing the two-time Premiers. They haven’t taken a backwards step in big matches this year, refusing to play canon fodder and never giving up.

In the end I think Penrith will be too fit for the Dolphins, however, especially when you consider they had to go for 85 minutes last Sunday while the Panthers haven’t played since June 30 – a decent turnaround that would have given the bulk of the team named for Sunday afternoon a much-needed rest.

And that June 30 game proved that a Panther three-peat is definitely a prospect this year – after going down early, Penrith ultimately produced their toughest and arguably most impressive performance of the season.

If the Dolphins can jag some early tries, they may make the game competitive, but if Cleary and co take the game by the scruff of the neck, they should be able to control the momentum and eventually run away with the game.

Don’t be surprised if some emerging players, like Lindsay Smith and Zac Hosking, get plenty of minutes this weekend – especially if the Origin boys do back up.

With dry conditions expected, a truckload of points wouldn’t be a surprise.

Tip: Panthers by 18.

The Panthers and Dolphins play at Kayo Stadium on Sunday, July 16 at 4.05pm. The match will be live on Fox Sports and Channel 9.

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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