Panthers v Raiders preview

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Penrith Panthers v Canberra Raiders Sunday 4:10pm at Panthers Stadium

Panthers look to keep top four hopes alive against dejected Raiders.

Anthony Griffin's men may currently sit in fifth position, just two points outside of the top four, but they are hardly looking like premiership contenders as of late. Penrith avoid a third-straight loss last week when they stunned the Sea Eagles with a four-try blitz within six minutes to snatch a late 28-24 win. The victory, along with Wests' loss to the Bulldogs, has ensured that the Panthers will feature in September this year.

However, at the rate they are going, they won't be there for long.

Last week, the mountain men missed a whopping 51 tackles as they slumped to a 24-6 defecit midway through the second half. After leading the competition at the end of Round 12, Penrith's only convincing win was a 36-4 victory over the Warriors, without their Origin stars. It appears as if energy and enthusiasm is lacking from their performances but the hope is that their return to Panthers Stadium will fix that concerning issue.

Fortunately for Penrith, it is hard to seeing their opposition finding much energy for this week's clash.

After a controversial loss to the Sharks a fortnight ago, the Raiders came out against the Storm dejected and mentally drained and they suffered as a result. A 44-10 loss to the premiership favourites all but ended their slim finals hopes in 2018 and leaves them with little to play for heading towards September. The only danger for the Panthers is if coach Ricky Stuart gives his side complete freedom on Sunday, as the Raiders are at their best when they adopt a more intuitive style of attack.

Given Penrith's recent defensive frailties, Canberra will be looking to start this match with plenty of aggression and capitalise with early points. What is certain is that they may need more than an 18-point lead if they are to trouble the Panthers on Sunday afternoon.

In team news for the Raiders, Aidan Sezer returns from injury and slots in at the five-eighth role. This sees Blake Austin shift to the centres to cover Michael Oldfield's absence.

Last Meeting: Round 13 2018 - Panthers 23 Raiders 22

The Raiders can sympathise with Manly, having fallen 23-22 to the Panthers in Round 13 earlier this year after conceding seven points in four minutes.

Who to watch: For the home side, experienced five-eighth James Maloney simply needs to perform or risk being given a rest. Maloney has looked tired in recent weeks, openly admitting he has been playing through injury and should have sat out last week's game against Manly. It's hard to argue against him given that Maloney missed 11 tackles in the clash and offered very little in attack. If the 2016 Premiership winner is still hampered by injury, he simply needs to let the more than capable Nathan Cleary take control. If not, he needs to once again prove why he was worth trading Matt Moylan for.

Meanwhile, the return of Aidan Sezer should provide a calming influence for the green machine this week. The five-eighth has been steadily improving in 2018, with three of his seven try-assists this year coming in the last four weeks. While Maloney may be struggling for form, he and Cleary are still a formidable combination. Sezer has the potential to possess one of the strongest long-range kicking games in the competition. However, it will only be truly beneficial if it features on a more consistent basis.

Favourite: Despite their shaky recent form, the Panthers are backed to win this one.

Tip: Having taken the Panthers by 16 points two weeks in a row, I simply cannot back them to claim a comfortable victory. They have a realistic chance of doing just that this week against the Raiders, but the same could be said last week against Manly. Back at home though, they should still get the win. Panthers by 8.

1. Tyrone Peachey 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Dean Whare 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Sione Katoa 10. James Tamou 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Tyrone May 15. Trent Merrin 17. Corey Harawira-Naera 18. Reagan Campbell-Gillard

1. Nick Cotric 2. Brad Abbey 3. Blake Austin 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Aidan Sezer 7. Sam Williams 8. Iosia Soliola 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Junior Paulo 11. Joseph Tapine 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Josh Papalii 14. Dunamis Lui 15. Shannon Boyd 16. Siliva Havili 17. Luke Bateman

Referees: Matt Cecchin, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Peter Gough; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea;

The match will also feature a significant milestone for lead referee Matt Cecchin, who will officiate his 300th NRL match and 500th overall NRL involvement (referee, sideline official or video referee).

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