Courtesy of NRL.com
Panthers v Wests Tigers
Saturday, 5:30pm (AEST)
There’ll be scratches and growls at the foot of the mountains on Saturday night as two of the most exciting teams in the competition meet in what shapes as one of the blockbuster games of the Anzac weekend week.
The ‘penny’ Panthers are prowling pretty in second place on the NRL ladder, complete with the highest attacking record (166 points), with their 40-12 thrashing of the Warriors in New Zealand last week one of the most dominant of the round and their best of the year.
Matt Elliott’s men are at full strength, with plenty of confidence – particularly their halfback Luke Walsh, whose 12 try assists (1st in the NRL) makes him one of the most dangerous plotters in the competition.
The Wests Tigers, on the other hand, have been destructive early in the season – but injuries and a last-start 24-4 loss to the Bulldogs has seen their claws trimmed a little.
The black-and-golds were brave for most of the match against the ’Dogs, particularly in the first half when they valiantly defended more attacking raids than from a hungry Jarrad Hickey at a newly stocked fridge. But it was all to no avail, as the early onslaughts eventually took their toll.
Still, the trio of Lote Tuqiri (six tries and 27 tackle-breaks), Benji Marshall (five tries, seven try assists and 29 tackle-breaks) and Robbie Farah make even The Three Musketeers look impotent. Together, particularly the Marshall-Tuqiri combination, they form one of the most dangerous trios in the league.
But to get one over the black cats, the Tigers will have to overcome a growing medical ward. Farah (elbow) and prop Keith Galloway (shoulder) will be given until kick-off to prove their fitness, while fans have still been unable to locate the whereabouts of Taniela Tuiaki (ankle). Robert Lui (ankle), Todd Payten (calf) and Jason Cayless (knee) round out their injury toll, which doesn’t even include the season-ending injury of rising star Tim Moltzen.
In contrast, the Panthers are bulging like Bill Gates’ wallet, having to omit gun five-eighth Wade Graham from their line-up.
Watch out Panthers: What do you get when you pit a team averaging the most metres in the competition (Tigers – 1427 metres a game) against a team with one of the worst marker defences (Penrith – 108 tackles at marker) in the competition? Farah will have a field day if Penrith don’t aim up in and around the ruck, and then they need to make sure they don’t get sucked in for the biggest Tiger (Tuqiri – 161 metres a game) to be unlocked out wide.
Watch out Tigers: Rookie halfback Blake Lazarus was thrown into a den of ’Dogs last weekend, and wasn’t it an ugly sight to see? The nephew of the great Glenn made three errors and had just a 73 per cent tackling efficiency defending out on the wing before being switched to fullback… and then the bench. There’s nowhere to hide on any football field, let alone CUA Stadium, where Blake can expect to be sucked into a Black Hole. The fleet-footed Michael Jennings and devastating Frank Pritchard will be just itching to take him there.
Where it will be won: The annual battle of the cats shapes as one of the most free-flowing attacking feasts of football you will see this year. Whoever defends the most (highly unlikely) or who scores the most points (more than likely) will win the game.
The History: Played 17; Penrith 13, Wests Tigers 4. The Panthers seem to be the Tigers’ bogey side, winning their past four clashes, and six of their past eight. This includes a sweep of the Tigers last year, where they took out the home-and-away clashes convincingly: 26-10 at Leichhardt Oval and 42-22 at CUA Stadium.
Conclusion: The fact that Penrith are at home and they’re in a better state health-wise makes you lean towards the home team, but beware the eye of the Tiger – or in this case, the eyes of Benji Marshall, who can almost single-handedly steal a game from anyone. We’ll tip the Panthers by 8 in a high-scoring affair.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Sideline officials – Steve Carrall & Ricky McFarlane; Video Referee – Steve Clark.
Televised: Live – Fox Sports, 5:30pm (AEST)
Preview: Panthers v Wests Tigers
VENUE & TIME: CUA Stadium, Saturday, April 24, 5.30pm (AEST).
COVERAGE: Fox Sports
HEAD TO HEADPlayed 17, Players 13, Tigers 4
LAST TIME: Panthers 26 - Tigers 10 at Leichhardt Oval, Round 13, 2009
MATCH ODDS: Luxbet: Panthers, Wests Tigers N/A
WALKING WOUNDED: The Panthers remain unchanged this week, with Maurice Blair and Masada Ioseda additions to an extended bench. Lock Luke Lewis left the field last Sunday with a hamstring injury and remains in doubt despite being named in the side. An injury cloud surrounds the fitness of Tigers captain Robbie Farah (wrist/elbow), forcing coach Tim Sheens to name current Wests Magpies hooker Chris Corby on an extended bench. Keith Galloway returns at prop from a shoulder problem, while injured duo Todd Payten (calf) and Robert Lui (ankle) are hopeful of making comebacks against the Roosters in Round 8.
FORM: The Panthers surged to second position on the NRL ladder on Sunday courtesy of their impressive 40-12 whipping of the Warriors in Auckland. The most pleasing aspect of the win was the Panthers’ ability to ward off a second-half revival by the Warriors, who were on a genuine roll for a period, backed by a boisterous home crowd. After a mixed opening three rounds, the black cats have posted three consecutive victories to emerge as one of the real surprise packets of the comp to date. The Tigers were gunning for four-successive wins last Friday night in their clash against the Bulldogs, but it became apparent early on in the game that it wasn’t going to be their evening. A poor completion rate during the first half was made up for to a degree by some quality goal-line defence, but all that extra tackling took its toll as the match wore on, allowing the Doggies to run away with it in the end.
WHO’S HOT: Much of the Panthers’ early season success can be attributed to the astute kicking game of half-back Luke Walsh. The talented No. 7’s right boot has contributed to no less than 12 of the Panthers 29 tries so far this year, including three of the club’s four first-half tries against the Warriors on Sunday. Walsh, along with in-form hooker Kevin Kingston and skipper Petero Civoniceva, were the driving forces behind for the club’s sensational performance across the ditch.
The Tigers continue to receive great value from winger Lote Tuqiri. Despite playing in a well-beaten team last Friday night, the former Wallaby had some quality touches in attack, one of which resulted in a superb left-edge try, and showed great commitment in defence.
WE THINK: The Panthers have won 10 of their past 12 encounters with the Tigers, including five of the past six at home. A short turnaround following a trip to Auckland is usually a tough assignment, but the Panthers are coming off such a convincing win that the confidence gained from such a result could well be carried forward on to Saturday night. With injury clouds hanging over the head of Robbie Farah and no Tim Moltzen to take the pressure of Benji Marshall, the Tigers may struggle for attacking fluency against their modern day nemesis in the Panthers. Panthers by 4.
Penrith v Wests Tigers
April 23, 2010
Saturday, CUA Stadium, 5.30pm (AEST)
Referees: Shayne Hayne and Chris James
Head to head: Panthers 13, Tigers 4
Last clash: Panthers 26 bt Tigers 10 at Leichhardt Oval (rd 13, 2009)
TAB SportsBet: Panthers $1.45, Tigers $2.65
FootyTab: Tigers +3.5
It’s hard to put a decent winning streak together in this tough competition, but the Panthers have the second-longest active streak at the moment, with three wins in a row. They have knocked over the Knights away, the Roosters at home and the Warriors away, to take their record to 4-2 and grab second place on the competition table by virtue of their good points for-and-against differential. They have a 2-1 record at home this season, with their only loss coming against the Storm.
The Tigers have been hit by a big injury toll, and, although he has been named to play, hooker and captain Robbie Farah is no certainty to get out there either, because of an elbow injury. Their improved depth this year means they have still named a side that is quite capable of winning this game, but a lot will depend on whether Farah plays. The Panthers have won the last four clashes between these two teams, and three of the last four at CUA Stadium.