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Panthers look to revive finals ambitions in season-defining clash
Just weeks after having their season declared a write-off following two wins over the opening ten rounds, the Penrith Panthers will be out to claim the scalp of the Sydney Roosters to move within striking distance of the top eight.
Posting back-to-back wins with a determined 15-12 victory over the Sea Eagles at home last Thursday, the Panthers will be made to work for the two points having lost seven of ten clashes against the reigning premiers during Trent Robinson's tenure.
Hosting only their fourth home match on a Sunday afternoon over the past 18 months, history suggests the Panthers are still in contention to qualify for the play-offs given the recent precedent set by Parramatta (2009), North Queensland (2013) and Cronulla (2015), along with their own form two years ago, where they finished seventh after winning just four matches over the first half of the season.
Retaining James Maloney and Jarome Luai in the halves, with Nathan Cleary included on an extended bench, Viliame Kikau is set to return after missing the win over Manly due to illness, while Liam Martin moves to the interchange following a man of the match performance last week.
With Tim Grant making the selfless decision to terminate his contract following a season-ending pectoral tear, Mitchell Kenny is set to be elevated into the club's top 30, allowing the 20-year-old to remain in first grade after being granted dispensation to play in the absence of Wayde Egan.
Refreshed following a week off with the bye, the Sydney Roosters will be out to get back in the winner's circle following consecutive losses against Brisbane and Newcastle on the road.
Suffering their heaviest loss in almost two years at the hands of Newcastle, 38-12, a fortnight ago, coach Trent Robinson will be buoyed by his side's strong form at the foot of the mountains where they've won three of their past four clashes since 2013.
Staring down the prospect of three straight losses for the first time since their disastrous 2016 campaign, the final makeup of the side looms as a point of contention with James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton taking part in the opening State of Origin fixture. Despite being named in the front row, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will miss the next fortnight after being found guilty of dangerous contact on Kalyn Ponga in the loss to the Knights.
Naming a 22-man squad as cover for any potential late withdrawals, former Dragons playmaker Drew Hutchinson will make his club debut alongside Cooper Cronk in the halves. Highly-valued forward Sio Siua Taukeiaho will play his 100th NRL game after debuting with the Warriors in the final round of 2013, while Poasa Fa'amusili or Lindsay Collins loom as likely candidates to take the place on the bench vacated by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves' suspension.
Last meeting: Round 15 2018 - Roosters 32 Panthers 6
Who to watch: Producing an eye-catching performance last Thursday at late notice, Penrith rookie Liam Martin will be out to back up his memorable showing against the reigning premiers. Called into the starting side on game day with Viliame Kikau unavailable due to illness, the 22-year-old Temora product looked every bit the first grader in his first 80 minute performance, running for over 100 metres, making 35 tackles and bagging the match-winning try in a reward for effort. Named to come off the bench on Sunday afternoon, Martin will be sure to face plenty of attention from the Roosters hard heads, but will rate his chances of weathering the pressure in front of a healthy home crowd.
Starved of possession in the loss to Newcastle a fortnight ago, premiership-winning centre Joseph Manu will be out to increase his involvement on Sunday afternoon. Running for just 12 metres against the Knights, the 22-year-old New Zealand international has been a solid contributor for the Roosters in 2019 as part of the side's potent, yet underutilised right side attack. Crossing for just one try in ten appearances this season, look for the Roosters to play to Manu's side of the field as he looks to expose Penrith rookie Brent Naden with his dazzling footwork and tackle-breaking prowess from anywhere on the park.
The favourite: Despite the Panthers coming into the match in good form and uncertainty surrounding player availability, the Roosters are favoured to come away with two competition points.
My tip: While the Panthers will make the Roosters fight until the final siren for the two points, the class of the reigning premiers should prove too strong. Roosters by 6.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Isaah Yeo 4. Brent Naden 5. Brian To'o 7. James Maloney 21. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 20. Mitch Kenny 13. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Frank Winterstein 15. Liam Martin 6. Jarome Luai 9. Wayde Egan 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 16. Moses Leota
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 17. Mitchell Aubusson 4. Joseph Manu 19. Ryan Hall 6. Drew Hutchison 7. Cooper Cronk 15. Zane Tetevano 21. Sam Verrills 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 16. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Isaac Liu 5. Matt Ikuvalu 9. Victor Radley 14. Nat Butcher 20. Lindsay Collins
Referees: Ben Cummins, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;