Panthers v Sea Eagles preview

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Penrith Panthers v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Saturday 3:00pm at Panthers Stadium

Two injury-depleted sides in contrasting circumstances come head-to-head on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers have had their fair share of injuries in 2018. If you looked at their position on the ladder though you wouldn't have guessed it. Anthony Griffin's men currently in third position, with a victory against Manly securing their spot in the top four. Penrith will be desperate to bounce back having gone down to the Roosters in their last outing 32-6. The game also claimed the latest victim of their injury crisis, with prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard breaking his jaw while Corey Harawira-Naera sits out Saturday's game to mend a groin injury. Fortunately, their absence is offset by the return of rampaging forwards Viliame Kikau and Moses Leota. The 26-point loss to the Tricolours has seen doubts over Penrith's premiership credentials re-emerge and the only way they can prove it was a one-off is by dominating Manly this week. The two points are particularly valuable this week given that in the next fortnight the Origin-impacted Panthers will take on the Warriors and Sharks. Penrith's origin and representative players are all set to back up this week. The Mountain Men will be confident in their chances given that they are currently undefeated at Panthers Stadium this year.

Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles have also had injury troubles, yet they currently sit in 14th place on the ladder in the fight to avoid the wooden spoon. Trent Barrett's men have lost four-straight games, with their last-start 32-8 defeat to the Dragons being the heaviest of the lot. Winger Akuila Uate joined their growing injury toll and will remain their for the rest of the year after injuring his ankle in Fiji's 26-14 loss to Papua New Guinea on the weekend. They do welcome Dylan Walker back though, while hooker Manase Fainu has been named to make his debut after taking Jackon Hastings' spot in the club's Top 30. Martin Taupau is also set to play despite being held up in New Zealand following the Denver Test. Talented duo Jake and Tom Trbojevic are also expected to back up from New South Wales' 18-14 win on Sunday night.

Last meeting: Finals Week 1 2017 - Sea Eagles 10 Panthers 22

Who to watch: For the home side, the return of Viliame Kikau is a massive boost. The Panthers struggled to find any spark in attack on the Roosters and lacked their usual punch and power up front. The loss of Campbell-Gillard will make discovering that even harder. Fortunately, the return of the Fijian international should give Penrith more strike close to the line. From 13 games in 2018, Kikau has managed 36 tackle-busts, four tries and an average of 115 running metres. He also tops the Panthers with 20 offloads to his name and is a constant threat in attack given how tough he is to tackle. The Manly defence will need to stop a rampaging Kikau if they are to come out on top on Saturday.

With Apisai Koroisau sidelined for an extended period, rookie Manase Fainu is given the perfect opportunity to prove himself at first-grade level. The Sea Eagles have struggled since the talented rake went down injured, with utility Matthew Wright selected as the stop-gap option in the number nine jersey. Against one of the strongest forward packs in the competition, Manly will need all the go-forward they can get and that is where Fainu comes in. If he can get his big men rolling up the field quickly it will give the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic the space to threaten Penrith's defensive line.

The favourite: The Panthers are heavy favourites to take this one.

My tip: The Sea Eagles have far too good a roster to be in the position they are currently in. A win will come soon for Barrett's men but the Panthers should be far too good at home. Penrith by 16.

1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Christian Crichton 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Dean Whare 5. Tyrone Phillips 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Trent Merrin 9. Sione Katoa 10. James Tamou 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Wayde Egan 15. Kaide Ellis 16.Jack Hetherington 17. Moses Leota 18. Jarome Luai 19. Liam Martin 20. Tyrone May 21. Nick Lui-toso 22. Caleb Aekins 23. Paea Pua

1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Moses Suli 4. Brian Kelly 5. Brad Parker 6. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-blake 9. Manase Fainu 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Frank Winterstein 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Trent Hodkinson 15. Matthew Wright 16. Shaun Lane 17. Taniela Paseka 18. Tom Wright 19. Kelepi Tanginoa 20. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Lloyd Perrett

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Matt Noyen; Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Rohan Best; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;

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