Round 4: Panthers v Wests Tigers preview
The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round all day long, but for the Penrith Panthers the wheels aren't going round and round smoothly, with new coach Ivan Cleary facing a bumpy road at the foot of the mountains as the Panthers take on Cleary's old side, the Wests Tigers.
Penrith held high expectations leading into 2019, however they have been extremely disappointing through three rounds with two hard losses to go with a narrow victory over Newcastle in Round 2. Last weekend, the Panthers rolled into a cold and wet Carrington Park in Bathurst where they hosted the Storm, taking an early 2-0 lead in the match - but that was where their scoring started and ended for the night, despite having almost 60% of the first half possession and having the ball in Melbourne's 20 for the majority of it.
The Panthers will want to get their attack firing as all five of their tries this season have come from their forward pack (hooker Wayde Egan, prop James Tamou, and backrowers James Fisher-Harris, Frank Winterstein, and Isaah Yeo), while their backs have struggled to make an impact this season. Discipline has been another issue for the home side that they will need to fix, Penrith having conceded 24 penalties in just three games. The boost for Ivan Cleary this week is that Yeo returns from concussion whilst strike weapon Viliame Kikau returns from a knee injury suffered in the trials.
For Michael Maguire, taking over the Wests Tigers' bus had been smooth sailing until last weekend, when the then-top of the table side stumbled to their first defeat, a 22-8 loss to the previously winless Bulldogs. They began their season with a win in wet conditions over Manly before being super impressive against the Warriors. Last weekend though, they struggled to make any inroads into a Canterbury side who had raced out to an 18-0 halftime lead. Despite a strong wind at their backs in the second half, they could only manage two consolation tries after going 22-0 behind early in the second.
The game last weekend took its toll on the visitors, with several players picking up knocks, however the most serious concern for Maguire's side is that veteran five-eighth Benji Marshall will be out for a couple of weeks. After a strong performance in the Canterbury Cup last weekend, Josh Reynolds makes his first NRL appearance, named in the halves to partner Luke Brooks.
Last meeting: Round 11 2018 - Panthers 16 Wests Tigers 2
The two sides have played on 32 occasions and the Panthers hold a 20-12 lead over the Tigers with the visitors having not tasted success in Penrith since way back in 2013.
Who to watch: Many Panthers fans called for Dylan Edwards to be dropped back to Canterbury Cup after a bad game at the back last weekend. The Penrith fullback dropped two kicks that directly led to Melbourne tries and was looking a touch shaky in defence. There's no doubt that Edwards will want to have a much better game this week and a dry night at Penrith Park could be the catalyst.
Wests Tigers five-eighth Josh Reynolds has found himself starting 2019 in the Canterbury Cup for the Western Suburbs Magpies, but he gets his opportunity to take on an important role in the NRL side in the coming weeks. Reynolds has been strong for the feeder side, and his demotion to the reserve grade competition came as a shock to most at the start of the season. The Panthers will need to be alert to Reynolds' game because he will have something to prove to his teammates and coach about why he should stay in the top grade.
The favourite: Interestingly despite being the much poorer side of the first three rounds, the Penrith Panthers are heavy favourites to win the Friday night contest.
My tip: On paper everything says the Tigers should win this clash. But whether it be the heart speaking louder, the Panthers should be able to get the win on Friday night, the quality of side is much better and the Panthers will be aiming to make a point and kickstart their season against the Tigers. The game could be one that is a nailbiter but then with the way the two sides play it could be a thrashing as well. Panthers by 10.