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Raiders look to keep finals hopes alive against revitalised Panthers
After toppling the defending Premiers a fortnight ago, Canberra backed it up last week with a comfortable 36-16 win against the Warriors and continued their late charge towards a possible finals spot. That victory was their third-straight and Ricky Stuart's men have scored over 30 points in each of those three wins. Luckily, despite centre Joey Leilua going down with a possible knee injury, he has since been cleared of any issues and Stuart has been able to name the same seventeen that downed New Zealand last weekend. However, despite their well-publicised ‘Viking Clap', the Raiders have been anything but fearsome at GIO Stadium, having only managed two wins from their past six home games. Conversely, against the Panthers, Canberra have won the past three matches played between the two sides in the Nation's capital, including last year's 22-12 Semi-Final win which knocked Anthony Griffin's men out of the final series. That may be a source of inspiration for their opponents, yet the Raiders do not have to look far for their own reason for wanting revenge on Sunday, having suffered an embarrassing 24-20 defeat at the hands of the Panthers earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will head down to Canberra brimming with confidence on the back of a six-game winning streak, including last week's less than convincing 24-16 triumph over the Cowboys. In fact, in those six games, the Panthers are yet to put together a dominant eighty-minute performance. Therefore, this week's outing could prove the perfect opportunity for Anthony Griffin's men to flex their muscles against an in-form Raiders outfit with tough matches against the equally desperate Dragons and Sea Eagles to follow. Penrith's chances of victory, however, were dealt a cruel blow in the form of a hand injury to the experienced Peter Wallace. Yet, the Panthers are testament to the benefits that can come from such opportunities, with rookie Sione Katoa given another chance to prove himself as Penrith's long-term hooker given the fact that the talented Mitch Rein has been left out of the starting seventeen. Fortunately, Wallace's injury is offset by the possible return of lock Trent Merrin, who may return from a knee injury after he was named on the extended bench. If the Panthers are to prevail on Sunday, it will be their defence which will prove the difference, seeing that they have kept their opponents to 16 or fewer points in their past four games.
Who to watch: The battle between opposing wingers Nick Cotric and Josh Mansour is set to be a brilliant one. Cotric all but etched his name into the Rookie of the Year trophy last weekend with a stellar performance against the Warriors. The winger finished with 156 running metres, broke the line twice and scored two tries.
Cotric is already displaying glimpses of the powerful running that barnstorming Penrith winger Josh Mansour is known for. Mansour had arguably one of his best games of the year last weekend against the Cowboys. The winger ran for 151 metres, broke the line twice and also crossed over for a try. Both Mansour and Cotric are powerful carriers of the football and their match-up is certainly one to keep an eye on.
My tip: This is a tough one. The Panthers' winning-streak is certainly admirable. Yet they will need to display some serious resolve in defence if they are to hold out a desperate and confident Canberra outfit. In the end, it appears as if the Raiders are building towards their Round 26 clash with Melbourne as a possible route to finals footy and their momentum should only grow this weekend. Raiders by 8.
1. Jack Wighton 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Blake Austin 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Junior Paulo 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Josh Papalii 12. Joseph Tapine 13. Elliot Whitehead 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Clay Priest 16. Dave Taylor 17. Luke Bateman 18. Michael Oldfield 19. Jeff Lima
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. Sione Katoa 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Moses Leota 14. Tyrone May 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. James Fisher-Harris 18. Trent Merrin 19. Dean Whare