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Rabbitohs and Panthers search for crucial wins in context of their finals aspirations.
The Rabbitohs will come into Sunday afternoon's clash confident and refreshed, having pocketed four competitions in the past two weeks. Their last-start victory over the Titans was particularly impressive given that they trailed 20-10 at half time. An Angus Crichton-inspired Rabbitohs outfit stormed home to score five tries in the second half to claim a 36-20 win. Yet they face a much more difficult test this week if Penrith can maintain the commitment in defence that they displayed in last week's loss to North Queensland. A victory on Sunday would see the Rabbitohs draw level with the Panthers on 16 points, two wins behind the currently 8th placed Eels.
After Parramatta's 13-12 win over Canterbury on Thursday night, a loss against the Rabbitohs will see the Panthers sitting two wins outside the Top Eight. Therefore, Anthony Griffin's men will be determined to claim victory on Sunday, especially seeing that they let a certain two points slip away in last week's last-minute loss to the Cowboys. The Panthers certainly aimed up in defence, almost holding on despite only having 42% of the ball. In saying this, Penrith have no one to blame but themselves for the amount of work that they had to do in defence, with critical errors and a string of penalties proving their undoing. Ultimately, with five of their next six games coming against teams outside the Top Eight, the Panthers have the perfect chance to be making the finals this year. Yet it all starts this week against the Rabbitohs. Their five-game winning streak was snapped by a flying Kyle Feldt last week and a quick response is needed to get their season back on track.
A depleted Penrith outfit fell to the Rabbitohs 21-20 earlier this year in Round 6.
Who to watch: For the home side, it will be interesting to see how former Panther Braidon Burns goes under the high ball after being tormented by former teammate Nathan Cleary in their last meeting. Although Burns' team won the battle on the score board, Cleary embarrassed the winger by peppering him with a series of spiralling bombs which Burns struggled to take all night. Look for Burns to attempt to exact vengeance on Sunday afternoon.
Speaking of Cleary, the Panthers will need even more direction from him attack after they struggled with last play options against the Cowboys last week. Penrith certainly held their own in defence, yet, in attack, they appeared rudderless at times. Cleary's kicking game has always been one his strong suits. However, he needs to have more variation, particularly in his short kicking game as the Panthers have struggled to force dropouts this year. In addition, the halfback looked most dangerous last week when he took on the line, proven by his try in the 65th minute, which appeared to have won Penrith the game. In saying this, why go away from what works? I am sure that Cleary will be sending bombs Burns' way all day.
My tip: This is a massive danger game for the Panthers. The Rabbitohs are fresh off the bye and last week's last-gasp loss would have been devastating for Penrith's confidence. Therefore, a fast start on Sunday afternoon is crucial. If Penrith can win the battle up front, they have enough strike out wide to emerge victorious. Panthers by 4
1. Cody Walker 2. Alex Johnston 3. Aaron Gray 4. Bryson Goodwin 5. Braidon Burns 6. John Sutton 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Robbie Farah 10. David Tyrrell 11. Tyrell Fuimaono 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Damien Cook 15. Jason Clark 16. Zane Musgrove 17. George Burgess 18. Anthony Cherrington 19. Kyle Turner
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Sione Katoa 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 20. Sitaleki Akauola