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Two under performing Western Sydney rivals look to reignite their seasons
After being installed as Premiership favourites to open the 2017 season, the Panthers' hopes of a Top Four finish have almost been well and truly dashed after a disappointing 2-5 start to the year. What must be even more concerning for coach Anthony Griffin is the nature of his side's loss to Cronulla last week, a 28-2 thumping in their own backyard. Penrith were gifted constant chances to at least post a try, yet their attack was insipid and disorganised with the Panthers finding themselves resorting to an eighty-minute performance of mainly sideways running in an attempt to break Cronulla's line. Still, Griffin has chosen to name the same 17 from last week to take on the Eels on Saturday afternoon, yet Bryce Cartwright is a chance of returning which would be handy given reports that James Fisher-Harris is in doubt with a shoulder injury. We cannot be sure whether Penrith's inept attack in the opposition twenty is a result of poor coaching or the inexperience of young halves Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin. Yet, if the pair are to again line up alongside each other on Saturday, they will need to take full control and get their forward pack running straight and hard. Luckily for the Panthers, the Eels do not possess the defensive grit that the Sharks built their victory on last week.
In saying this, Parramatta displayed great determination to fight back from a 22-10 deficit early in the second half to run down the West Tigers 26-22 on Easter Monday. The win lifted the Eels to 10th on the ladder and may just be the boost that Brad Arthur's side needed to push towards a spot in the Top Eight. Arthur, however, would have been worried by the nature of the Tigers' tries in the first half, in particular, the four-pointer to Sauaso Sue who simply walked through some lazy Parramatta defence to give his side the lead in the 28th minute. While Penrith have been struggling in attack as of late, that has been primarily against two of the best defensive units in the competition - the Sharks and Storm. Meanwhile, against the weaker Rabbitohs, Knights and Tigers, the Panthers have posted a combined 96 points, an average of 32 a game. If the Eels can hold strong in defence, Penrith showed enough defensive frailties in last week's defeat to suggest that this one is winnable for the men in the Blue and Gold. In team news, Kenny Edwards returns from injury at the right time, replacing Peni Terepo, who is out with a pectoral injury.
Last meeting: Round 19 2016 - Panthers 22 Eels 18
The Panthers came back from 18-6 down at the break to snatch a 22-18 victory in Round 19 last year.
Who to watch: He may not have been named in the starting seventeen, but Bryce Cartwright has been tipped by coach Griffin as very likely to make his long-awaited return to face the Eels - and boy do the Panthers need him! Despite a disrupted start to his 2017 campaign, by just looking back at Cartwright's 2016 statistics, you can immediately see why he is invaluable to this Penrith outfit. Cartwright led the way in offloads in 2016 and despite their risks, the Panthers are crying out for some variation in attack and Cartwright's offloads can offer just that. He also ranked second in the squad for try assists and was their leading forward when it came to line breaks and tackle busts. Of course, he led the side for both errors and missed tackles but, if Cartwright is able to fix this up, his contribution offensively is simply a must for the Panthers this week. If Cartwright does not play the Panthers will need a better performance from the under performing Trent Merrin.
For the Eels, in the absence of electric fullback Bevan French, Clinton Gutherson needs to continue to spark his side from the back. Gutherson managed 184 running metres, a try assist and line break in last week's win over the Tigers, but his side will be hoping for even more from the utility who starred in their 22-18 loss to the Panthers last year with three line breaks, a try assist, try and 124 running metres.
The favourite: Despite having lost three straight, the Panthers are being backed to turn it around.
My tip: No confidence in this one but the Panthers should be simply too desperate with their season slowly slipping away. Penrith by 4.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Kirisome Auva'a 5. Josh Hoffman 6. Brad Takairangi 7. Corey Norman 8. Suaia Matagi 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 14. Beau Scott 15. Daniel Alvaro 16. Kenny Edwards 17. Siosaia Vave
1. Matt Moylan 2. Waqa Blake 3. Dean Whare 14. Peta Hiku 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 21. Bryce Cartwright 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 18. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 4. Tyrone Peachey 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 17. Moses Leota
Referees: Gavin Badger, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Bryan Norrie;