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The Panthers’ habit of slow starts from last year look set to feature again in 2018 after Anthony Griffin’s men quickly found themselves 14-0 down on the scoreboard against Parramatta last Sunday. Fortunately, Penrith also strengthened their reputation as fast finishers, posting 24 unanswered points to claim a 10-point victory over their Western Sydney rivals. Barnstorming edge forward Viliame Kikau was a genuine game-changer for the home side – scoring a try, busting five tackles and breaking the line twice in a performance that shifted momentum in Penrith’s favour. Centre Waqa Blake was also electric for the Mountain Men, scoring two tries, including an individual effort which kickstarted Penrith’s comeback victory. Kikau and Australian prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard have been named to start for the Panthers, although it is likely that they will revert back to the bench as they did last weekend to provide more impact in the later stages of the opening half. Meanwhile, Dean Whare has been selected on the extended bench and is a possibility of reclaiming his spot in the starting side with Tyrone Peachey expected to drop back to the bench if that is the case.
Coach Griffin will be hoping for a more clinical performance from his outfit this weekend against a South Sydney team weakened by the loss of halfback Adam Reynolds and fatigued by their Round 1 game in Perth. The Rabbitohs slumped to a disappointing 32-20 defeat at the hands of the Warriors last Saturday and will need to overcome adversity this weekend if they are to avoid a second-straight loss. Since 2012, the Rabbitohs have won just five of their 19 games without their regular No. 7. The injury has forced coach Anthony Seibold to hand boom rookie Adam Douehi the halfback position, with five-eighth Cody Walker to shoulder the responsibility for guiding the team around. Doing so will prove difficult though given the dejection that the side would have felt after last weekend’s loss as the Warriors had previously lost all nine games played at Perth. South Sydney will, however, be buoyed by their positive recent record against Penrith, having won 7 of the past 9 meetings between the two sides dating back to 2012.
Last meeting: Round 17 2017 – Rabbitohs 42 Panthers 14
If the Panthers need more of a reason to compete than the two points, all they have to do is relive their last clash with the Rabbitohs. Every pass seemed to stick for the home side as South Sydney cruised to a 42-14 win at ANZ Stadium in Round 17 last year.
Who to watch: For the home side, more is needed from recruit James Maloney. The former Shark was mediocre on Sunday afternoon, missing six tackles and providing limited attacking input to relieve the pressure placed on halfback Nathan Cleary. Maloney was brought to the Foot of the Mountains to deliver the game management that Penrith needed to be true premiership contenders. However, in the early stages of the first half the Panthers failed to capitalise on several chances. When considering his first appearance, Maloney did not justify his lofty price tag. Reynold’s absence means that one of Penrith’s key advantages over the Rabbitohs will be their far superior halves pairing. As a result, Maloney’s direction and experience alone could prove the difference and it is up to the Blues five-eighth to prove this.
Conversely, without his regular halves partner, five-eighth Cody Walker will need to step up as to alleviate pressure directed towards debutant Adam Douehi. Walker was impressive in defeat last weekend, scoring two tries against the Warriors. However, with Reynolds sidelined, his running game will unfortunately be restricted. Instead, Walker must focus on providing the guidance necessary to control his team’s attack. How well he does this will likely determine the outcome of Saturday afternoon’s match.
The favourite: Given both side’s Round 1 form and South Sydney’s injury blow, the Panthers are well backed to claim back-to-back home victories.
My tip: The only hope South Sydney have of victory on Saturday is if their forward pack dominates. That is the only area in which Seibold’s side is of equal capability to that named by Anthony Griffin. Otherwise, with a more potent backline, powerful bench and classy halves pairing, this game is more of a question of the Panthers by how much. Panthers by 16.