The 2018 #NRL Pre-season is now complete with a range of results across this evening - some predicte...
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Make-or-break for Panthers against high-flying Sea Eagles
Humbled by a South Sydney outfit that produced their finest 80 minutes in well over 12 months, the Panthers return home this Saturday in need of a win to stay within touch of the top eight. Getting away to a promising start last Sunday, the Panthers were shell-shocked to leave ANZ Stadium convincingly beaten and bearing injuries to boot. In the most significant absence, Dean Whare is expected to miss at least a month with a broken jaw, in his place Tyrone Peachey returns to the backline. Additionally, Mitch Rein returns at hooker after being a late withdrawl against the Rabbitohs, while New Zealand representative James Fisher-Harris may come into calculations for the final 17 after being named on an extended bench. Currently sitting two wins outside the top eight in ninth place, the Panthers will be hoping recent history plays a factor after coming away with six wins from the past seven clashes, including the past four meeting.
Having worked their way into the top four with countless major scalps to their credit, it seems farcical to think speculation regarding Trent Barrett's tenure as Manly coach was in overdrive at the beginning of 2017. Claiming their fifth consecutive win over the Warriors last Saturday, the Sea Eagles have been the surprise packets of the year after working their way back from the also ran ranks over the past two seasons. Having performed relatively well with injuries this season, the Sea Eagles will field some new faces in the forward pack following the omissions of Jake Trbojevic and Lewis Brown, in their place Jarrad Kennedy, Shaun Lane and Cameron Cullen all come into the side for just their second appearances in the Maroon and White. Barring a calamitous reversal of form over the final rounds of 2017, the Sea Eagles will feature in September once again and will be looking to use Saturday's fixture as the launching pad for a tilt at claiming a third premiership in the NRL era.
Who to watch: With the Panthers making their reputation in recent years on the development of players through NRL pathways, it comes as little surprise to see the success of Corey Harawira-Naera in 2017. Signed from New Zealand to make his club debut in the Holden Cup three years, ago the 22-year-old back-rower has taken his chance in the absence of Bryce Cartwright and James Fisher-Harris to cement a place in the starting side and more than held his own. Routinely finding the tryline with an uncanny knack to capitalise on holes in opposition defensive lines, Harawira-Naera looks set to play a key role in Penrith's long-term success.
In a Manly side that has frequently defied expectations, one of the unsung heroes has been Frank Winterstein. Unassumingly taking part in every match this season, the well-travelled 30-year-old has proven to be a valuable pick-up for Trent Barrett with his reliability playing a key role in the side's ascent to the top four. Capable of going the distance, Winterstein's greatest attribute to the Sea Eagles has been his defensive precision, while bringing a wealth of experience to an ever-improving squad. With Curtis Sironen, Lewis Brown and Jake Trbobevic sidelined through injury and Origin respectively, Winterstein will be looking to take on additional responsibility in the back-row, alongside journeymen Jarrad Kennedy and Shaun Lane.
My tip: The match shapes as crucial for both sides as they look to secure their place in run home to September, however the surprise move by the QRL to overlook Daly Cherry-Evans should see Manly prove too strong. Sea Eagles by 14.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Rein 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Sione Katoa 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 17. Sitaleki Akauola
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Matthew Wright 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Brenton Lawrence 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Martin Taupau 11. Frank Winterstein 16. Shaun Lane 13. Darcy Lussick 14. Cameron Cullen 15. Lloyd Perrett 20. Brad Parker 17. Addin Fonua-blake