Canberra v Penrith | Saturday, September 17, 7.45pm (AEDT), GIO Stadium
The competition’s form team heading into September, the Raiders came crashing back to earth with a thud after a surprise loss to an undermanned Sharks outfit as the pressure of semi-final football took its toll on Ricky Stuart’s youthful side.
Josh Hodgson has been arguably the club’s best player this season and the wheels started to come off following his serious ankle injury just after half-time with Canberra unable to adjust on the fly and short on direction down the stretch.
Stuart has named both Hodgson and Blake Austin to play but the latter appears a far more likely proposition with Sam Williams likely to share dummy-half duties with Kurt Baptiste should the Englishman fail to come up.
Austin, meanwhile, has worked soundly through some drills at training this week and will be left to make the call on his own fitness but uncertainly surrounding your key playmakers isn’t what you want heading into an elimination final.
Penrith started slowly but kicked into gear after the break to run away from the Bulldogs and they’ll ook to expose some of the hosts’ vulnerabilities wider of the ruck.
Peter Wallace’s memorable second half try, following instinctive lead-up work from Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour, was a prime example the Panthers pose a threat from anywhere on the field and this match could well turn into a shootout.
Unlike their opponents, the Panthers have a few injury concerns and have named the same 17-man squad for the third consecutive week with Trent Merrin keen to dismiss speculation they’re a ‘year too early’ from being a genuine contender by insisting his teammates have what it takes to go all of the way.
With another capacity crowd willing them on, don’t want to abandon the Raiders based on one performance and expect them to bounce back strongly here.
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Last time they met: Round 9 – Penrith 19-18 Canberra
Line tip: Canberra -1.5
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton 2 Edrick Lee 3 Jarrod Croker (c) 4 Joseph Leilua 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Blake Austin 7 Aidan Sezer 8 Junior Paulo 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Shannon Boyd 11 Josh Papalii 12 Elliot Whitehead 13 Iosia Soliola Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste 15 Luke Bateman 16 Clay Priest 17 Joseph Tapine.
Panthers: 1 Matthew Moylan (c) 2 Joshua Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Tyrone Peachey 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6 Bryce Cartwright 7 Nathan Cleary 8 Leilani Latu 9 Peter Wallace 10 Suaia Matagi 11 Isaah Yeo 12 James Fisher-Harris 13 Trent Merrin Interchange: 14 Sitaleki Akauola 15 Jeremy Latimore 16 Christopher Grevsmuhl 17 Zak Hardaker 20 Moses Leota.