QF 2: Panthers v Rabbitohs preview

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Penrith Panthers v South Sydney Rabbitohs Saturday 7:50pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

With one tackle gone horribly wrong, South Sydney found their premiership hopes in tatters.

It wiped Latrell Mitchell out for the rest of the season and with it a key cog in the lethal left-edge attack that had made the Rabbitohs a title contender.

Put a line through a Wayne Bennett-coached team at your own peril though.

He took Queensland all the way to an Origin shield no-one saw coming and now, in his final year at the helm, Bennett is plotting one final push at the premiership.

It won't come easy though, with the Rabbitohs preparing to face a Panthers side they are yet to defeat in 2021.

First it was an embarrassing 56-12 thumping and then later in the season a Nathan Cleary masterclass that sealed a 25-12 defeat.

Souths have actually lost five-straight against Penrith, who also boast a brilliant left edge that was on fire last week against Parramatta.

Brian To'o scored a career-first hat-trick in the 40-6 win over the Eels.

It was Cleary's boot that caused all kinds of headaches for the Rabbitohs last time these two sides met though.

The Panthers conceded the first two tries on that night before Cleary changed the complexion of the game with a swarm of towering bombs.

Bennett has named youngster Blake Taaffe at fullback but is yet to confirm whether that is locked in, with Alex Johnston and Cody Walker other safer options to deputise in the role.

Moving Walker would be criminal though given what he has achieved in the five-eighth jumper for Souths this year.

He was relatively quiet in South Sydney's latest game against Penrith but was their biggest threat in the earlier drubbing.

On that afternoon the Panthers kept the rest of the Rabbitohs' weapons quiet and seem to have the blueprint to doing so on a consistent basis.

Penrith will be without Tyrone May (knee) and Scott Sorensen (wrist) on Saturday with Mitch Kenny and Spencer Leniu joining the bench.

Last meeting: Round 23 2021 - Panthers 25 Rabbitohs 12

Who to watch: All eyes will be on Cleary's boot, which means it is only more important Jarome Luai stands up. The Rabbitohs defenders will target the Panthers halfback heavily and while Luai does not necessarily need to offer an extra kicking option, he will need to shoulder more responsibility in attack if needed. Luai is at his best when playing second fiddle but should Cleary struggle with the increased pressure, the five-eighth needs to put his hand up. Luai's running game is his most dangerous weapon, as proven a fortnight ago against the Tigers. Even taking on the line a few times early in the game to keep the Rabbitohs defence guessing will help ease the pressure on halves partner Cleary.

While Walker shapes as South Sydney's biggest threat in attack, it all starts with lock Cameron Murray. The Blues representative was missing in Penrith's 56-12 win earlier this year but suited up for the last meeting between the two sides. On that night Murray was reduced to a tackling machine. He ran for just 74 metres, instead forced into making 55 tackles which limited his impact in attack. While the Panthers' defence can appear impenetrable at times, the Tigers proved two weeks ago that they can be vulnerable around the ruck. Jacob Liddle's burst through the middle in the lead-up to Stefano Utoikamanu was evidence of it. Quick play-the-balls from Murray, who is one of the best in the league at it, could open up opportunities for Damien Cook to exploit that weakness.

The favourite: Penrith is strong favourites for this one. 

My tip: The bookies may not see a close contest but even without Mitchell, the Rabbitohs are capable of causing an upset. The kicking game of Cleary though gives the Panthers a slight edge. Penrith by 7.

2. Stephen Crichton 20. Charlie Staines 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Matt Burton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 18. Matthew Eisenhuth 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 17. Liam Martin 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Isaah Yeo 11. Viliame Kikau 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Tevita Pangai Junior 19. Izack Tago

1. Blake Taaffe 2. Alex Johnston 3. Dane Gagai 4. Campbell Graham 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Mark Nicholls 9. Damien Cook 10. Tevita Tatola 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Cameron Murray 14. Benji Marshall 15. Jacob Host 16. Thomas Burgess 17. Jai Arrow 21. Patrick Mago

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Alan Shortall;

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