Penrith look to build on last week's comprehensive victory when they face the undefeated Roosters side in what shapes as a possible preview into what we may see come September.
The Panthers will head into their Round 3 clash with confidence after their 36-2 thumping of the Tigers. It was a complete turnaround from their previous loss to St George, in which their inept display saw many questioning Penrith's title credentials. Of particular concern from that clash was their defence, with fifty missed tackles and a general lack of commitment defending their line seeing last season's second worst attacking side cross for seven tries. Yet, any doubts on both Penrith's attack and defence were shattered last weekend. Young halves Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin took perfect advantage of the dominant platform laid by their forward pack. As a result, their outside backs were able to showcase their brilliance with Tyrone Peachey in particular enjoying a stellar game in the centres with four line breaks and a try assist to his name. You wouldn't think that the Roosters will give the Panthers much room, however, and the battle up front will therefore be vital to the result on Saturday night. Anthony Griffin had named Bryce Cartwright to start on Saturday night, but he's since been ruled out with James Fisher-Harris taking his place. In this case, Tim Browne looks like the man who will come onto an explosive bench headlined by Viliame Kikau who starred in his debut last weekend.
The home side will have the hard task in containing a confident Roosters side sitting in 3rd position on the ladder. On the back of a well drilled forward pack Mitchell Pearce and Luke Keary have enjoyed a successful start to their partnership. Keary in particular has surprised, backing up his two tries in Round 1 with three try assists in last week's tight 28-24 win over the Bulldogs. Penrith have often struggled with missed tackles and this trend has continued into 2017 with 80 already to their name this season. The Roosters, on the other hand, only have 44. Yet, despite missing 33 last week, Penrith's defence stood tall and against all odds held the Tigers scoreless. They will have to show a similar resoluteness in defence this week against a Roosters side who has tallied the most points thus far in 2017. The absence of Blake Ferguson, however, makes this just that bit easier.
(If you don't count their 2017 Auckland Nines Final clash [pictured above], won by the Roosters 10-8).
Who to watch: Expected to fill in for the injured Cartwright, look for James Fisher-Harris to relish his starting spot on Saturday night. The Panthers will need him to stand up against a large Roosters pack, and he certainly has the size to match. But his silky hands are equally impressive and if you need an example of what he can do with extended minutes look no further than his performance against Cronulla in Round 8 last year. Injuries to Te Maire Martin and Waqa Blake threatened to derail Penrith's hopes, yet a reshuffle saw Fisher-Harris spend 55 minutes on the field, a sharp contrast from the 20 or so minutes he was averaging before. Yet, he buried any doubts regarding his ability to play extra minutes, single-handedly bringing Penrith back into the match with two tries and 145 running metres. With a similar chance looming on Saturday night, if he can wrap up his defensive deficiencies, look for Fisher-Harris to explode.
For the Roosters, Boyd Cordner has always proved to be a handful for the Penrith side in previous years. Likely to be squaring up against Fisher-Harris, Cordner scored a try, ran for 149 metres and made a line break in last year's 38-18 loss in Round 22. Yet he constantly threatened for the Roosters on that night, despite playing in a losing side. His ability to run slicing lines through frail defence could be a worry for a Penrith side that, despite their defensive resolve last week, has missed the second most tackles in the NRL.
My tip: This one is almost too close to call. Are the Panthers back on track? If so, they possess the attacking fire power to win this. But the Roosters have shown themselves to be more than capable this season, albeit for some troubles in the second half. The loss of Ferguson may hurt the Roosters more than first thought while the late inclusion of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, despite Dylan Edwards' success last week may, by the slimmest of margins, tip this in Penrith's favour. Penrith by 2.
1. Matt Moylan 2. Dean Whare 3. Waqa Blake 4. Tyrone Peachey 21. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 14. James Fisher-Harris 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 15. Leilani Latu 16. Viliame Kikau 17. Sitaleki Akauola 20. Peta Hiku
1. Michael Gordon 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Luke Keary 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Dylan Napa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Aidan Guerra 14. Isaac Liu 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Ryan Matterson 17. Connor Watson