Round 11: South Sydney v Penrith preview
Dubbo may be treated to a potential grand final preview on Sunday as the Rabbitohs and Panthers face off.
South Sydney have just the two losses to their name in 2021 - both to the Melbourne Storm - and would only strengthen their premiership credentials here by snapping Penrith's winning run.
The Rabbitohs cruised to an early lead last week against Cronulla before faltering late, holding on for a 32-22 win.
Wayne Bennett bristled post-game at suggestions his team were struggling to put 80-minute performances together but it is not far from the truth.
The Panthers have conceded just 76 points this season - 124 fewer than the Rabbitohs and even restricted Melbourne to just 10 earlier in the season, proving just how difficult a task Souths have on Sunday.
Campbell Graham has been named on the extended bench and could make a comeback from injury but Cam Murray remains sidelined.
Nathan Cleary was at his devastating best in a 28-point individual haul against the Titans last week.
An 18-12 second half against the 12-man Gold Coast did not leave Ivan Cleary too impressed post-game - a concerning sign for the Rabbitohs.
Instead of hoping to play a Panthers side with little to prove, it is clear the coach still expects improvement and sustained intensity from the playing group, regardless of how many records they have broken along the way.
Who to watch: Damien Cook has the NSW No. 9 jersey wrapped up but Apisai Koroisau has certainly been putting the pressure on the incumbent the past year. Cook shapes as South Sydney's best chance of disrupting a Penrith defensive line that has so rarely cracked this season. While incredibly mobile and fit, the Panthers can get a bit loose at times in the middle around the ruck - Manly exposed it over a fortnight ago. If forwards can pop late offloads for Cook he has the pace to challenge Penrith. Meanwhile, Koroisau has been doing his job for the Panthers recently without being overly flashy but is primed for another big performance. Deception around the ruck is his greatest strength but has not been needed given Penrith's dominance in most games this year. The Rabbitohs though present stern opposition and Koroisau may need to draw on his bag of tricks to get Penrith over the line.
The favourite: Hard to back against the undefeated Panthers who are well backed here.
My tip: The Rabbitohs have the individual attacking threats to make this a tight affair but Penrith's edge in defence should prove the difference. Penrith by 8.