Panthers v Knights preview

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Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights Sunday 4:05pm at Campbelltown Stadium

Two undefeated surprise packets look to build off perfect start

Revenge is on the cards this week as the Knights look to avenge an embarrassing 54-10 last-start loss to the Panthers.

Nathan Cleary was the star on that afternoon, scoring a club-record 34 points including four tries and nine goals.

He won't be here this time around though as Dubbo junior Matt Burton takes the reigns.

Burton has just the one NRL game to his belt and while it wasn't the same record-breaking performance of Cleary's, in many ways it was just as impressive.

The Sharks are a tough and gritty side renowned for bullying the opposition into defeat and a young kid on debut is the perfect target.

But the 20-year old was unphased, beautifully executing his role by chiming in when he needed to and even setting up the opening try of the night with a well-timed grubber kick for Brent Naden.

This time around it is a different task ahead for Burton.

Cleary won't be there and instead he will need to take charge along five-eighth Jarome Luai.

Luai is still feeling his way into first grade too but the signs were positive in the opening two rounds as he upped his involvement, offering a second option to make Penrith's attack less predictable.

The Panthers had it easy against Newcastle in that final round clash last year but this Knights side this year looks a much more resilient outfit under the tutelage of Adam O'Brien.

First up it was a 20-0 shutout of the Warriors and then a 42-24 thumping of the Tigers.

Albeit against bottom eight sides, the defensive effort against the men across the ditch would have been particularly pleasing given Newcastle's struggles on their own line in recent years.

It all comes down to attitude - O'Brien said so himself in the pre-season.

"Sides like Melbourne and the Roosters don't just turn up and defend like that because they've got good players, they defend like that because it becomes ingrained in their walls," he told AAP.

"It's a culture thing. It's resilience. You work hard, you play tough and you don't give in."

Newcastle will also be without one of their star players for Sunday's game with fullback Kalyn Ponga sidelined for a week due to suspension.

Young gun Tex Hoy is rewarded with his NRL debut in the number one jersey and seeing that he is currently living with Ponga, he has probably been using the shutdown to learn the ropes from the regular custodian.

Last meeting: Round 25 2019 - Panthers 54 Knights 10

Who to watch: Both teams have advantages in key positions - Penrith in the number nine jersey and Newcastle at halfback. Whoever best exploits it will likely go on to win this game. Apisai Koroisau has made an immediate impact since returning to the foot of the mountains. His speed and deceptive slight of hand out of dummy-half has opened up Penrith's attack to make it less structured. Instead, Koroisau plays what is in front of him and it has relieved pressure off Cleary to be the sole contributor. This week he may also have to draw upon his kicking game to ease Burton into the game more. 

Meanwhile, the Knights have a clear advantage in the halfback position with Cleary out. While Luai and Burton have just 20 games of NRL experience, Mitchell Pearce has 278. His leadership has helped to steer Newcastle in the right direction but now he needs to help them build off a perfect 2-0 start as they look to make up for a disappointing end to 2019. 

The favourite: Penrith are slight favourites to take the victory.

My tip: Will the loss of Cleary or Ponga have the bigger impact? Both teams have fresh-faced rookies filling in but you get the feeling Pearce's experience in the halves will prove the difference. Knights by 12.

1. Caleb Aekins 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 14. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Matt Burton 7. Jarome Luai 8. James Tamou 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Isaah Yeo 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Moses Leota 18. Mitch Kenny 19. Billy Burns

1. Tex Hoy 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 18. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Connor Watson 10. Daniel Saifiti 17. Aidan Guerra 12. Sione Mata'utia 13. Herman Ese'ese 14. Chris Randall 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Tim Glasby 19. Brodie Jones

Referees: Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Chris Butler; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;

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