Bulldogs v Panthers preview

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Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Penrith Panthers Friday 6:00pm at ANZ Stadium

Bulldogs eye reversal of fortune against unbeaten Panthers

Having made the audacious decision to sack Des Hasler after missing the finals for the first time in five seasons with the club, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs find themselves under increasing external pressure to reverse a disappointing opening fortnight against the undefeated Penrith Panthers. Losing by 18 points against the Storm and Roosters, the Bulldogs will be hoping their first genuine home game of 2018 brings with it a change in fortune, while also drawing motivation from the occasion to produce a performance befitting of Josh Morris' 200th appearance for the club. In response to the underwhelming start to the year, coach Dean Pay has produced his first major selection statement by naming Jeremy Marshall-King to start alongside Kieran Foran in the halves in response to Matt Frawley's form. With Marshall-King gaining elevation into the starting side, former Cronulla utility Fa'amanu Brown is set to make his club debut off the bench, while Aiden Tolman becomes the third player named at lock in as many games. While critics have decried the defensive efforts of the Bulldogs over the opening two rounds as a further regression from the much-maligned Hasler era, the Blue and Whites will be hopeful of replicating their performance against the Panthers in a recent pre-season fixture at Belmore, where they stunned their more-fancied opponents on the back of commitment across the board.

Giving up convincing leads against Parramatta and South Sydney in their first two matches of 2018, the Penrith Panthers will be striving to improve their starts as they chase a third consecutive win. With the team coming under scrutiny for allowing opponents to establish commanding leads during the first 40 minutes of matches, it is worth highlighting the resolute defensive efforts Penrith have produced in second halves, which has seen them hold teams scoreless while amassing 18 points. Heading into Friday's fixture, coach Anthony Griffin has been forced into a change as a result of Kiwi prop Sam McKendry sustaining a third torn ACL in as many seasons. With McKendry set to miss the rest of the year, Moses Leota earns a recall on the bench, where he will be joined by match-winner Tyrone Peachey, who will assume the role of interchange utility following Dean Whare's return from injury in the centres. Claiming victory over Canterbury in the past three meetings between the two sides, expect the Panthers to start the match with an offensive mindset as look to emulate their last encounter with the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium - a resounding 38-0 victory - while retaining the same defensive proficiency that has seen the mountain men begin 2018 unbeaten.

Last meeting: Round 21 2017 - Panthers 16 Bulldogs 8

Who to watch: It seems like only yesterday that Josh Morris opted to leave behind brother Brett and the star-studded Dragons backline in the hopes of becoming a regular centre at Canterbury. Fast-forward ten seasons and on Friday night, Morris will become only the ninth player in the Bulldogs history to play 200 matches for the club. During that time the 31-year-old has been a pillar of class across all levels of the game, while being a constant threat for opposing defences with his try-scoring prowess. While the days of scoring 22 tries in a season may be behind him following the tolls of injury, Morris will be intent upon making his position within the Bulldogs roster a fixture beyond 2018 through his performances with and without the ball. Off-contract alongside brother Brett at seasons end, Morris has proven to be one of the finest backline players of the era, while retaining the same desire to succeed as when he arrived at the club in search of an opportunity a decade ago.

Having shown signs of untapped potential during the infancy of his first grade career, Penrith centre Waqa Blake looks set for a breakout year in 2018 if his early season form is any indication. Bagging three tries over the opening two rounds, the 23-year-old Fijian representative has showcased a level of agility rarely sighted since Greg Inglis' emergence over a decade ago. Returning from a shoulder reconstruction which saw him miss the Panthers finals series and Fiji's historic World Cup campaign, Blake will be eager to make up for lost time by continuing his rapid development, while hopefully gaining the eye of Brad Fittler for a potential NSW debut. Having earned a call-up for the Fittler-coached City Origin team after just four games in first grade in 2015, the potential Blake has displayed throughout his ascendance from Under 20s prospect to established first grader appears to be paying off in a big way, which if early season form continues, serves as a sign of good things to come for the Panthers strike weapon.

The favourite: While the manner in which Penrith have gone about their wins may be less than desirable, the end result makes it difficult to deny their status as favourites to extend their unbeaten start to 2018.

My tip: While both sides head into the fixture in contrasting form, the Panthers have demonstrated a greater capacity to score points and remain defensive sound when called upon. Panthers by 4.

1. Moses Mbye 2. Brett Morris 3. Josh Morris 4. William Hopoate 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Jeremy Marshall-King 7. Kieran Foran 8. Aaron Woods 9. Michael Lichaa 10. David Klemmer 11. Josh Jackson 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Aiden Tolman 14. Adam Elliot 18. Francis Tualau 16. Danny Fualalo 17. Fa'amanu Brown

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Dean Whare 21. Christian Crichton 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 17. James Fisher-Harris 9. Peter Wallace 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 15. Corey Harawera Naera 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 8. James Tamou 11. Viliame Kikau 14. Tyrone Peachey 16. Moses Leota

Referees: Adam Gee, Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;

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