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Injury hit contenders face off in match of the round
Manly were touted as having a decent chance to win the premiership before a ball was kicked this year while the Panthers have let the footy do the talking and are now sitting pretty at the top of the table and 1 point clear of any challengers.
Last week, both sides travelled up to Queensland and faced gallant opposition, but ended up having too much class for the Cowboys and Titans respectively. Manly got out to an early lead and despite the Cowboys piling on a couple of tries their eventual victory never really looked in doubt. The Panthers were up against the Gold Coast and had a real game on their hands at half time, leading 16-14. The upset wasn't to be however, and they ended up closing the match out and winning by 8 points.
Manly have made no changes to their 17 that travelled up to Townsville last week. Cade Cust had arguably his best 80-minute first grade game and he has retained the five-eighth spot, leaving Des Hasler with quite the headache when first choice for the position Dylan Walker returns from injury. Tom Trbojevic remains at least 3 weeks away from a return.
For the Panthers, they receive a boost in the form of star second rower Viliame Kikau returning after he missed last week with a minor injury. His inclusion pushes Tyrone May back to the interchange bench and Matt Burton out of the side. They remain without key spine members Dylan Edwards and Api Koroisau as well as winger Brian To'o. Zane Tetevano is close to a return after being named on the extended bench.
Despite the high-profile personnel sitting this one out, the match shapes as an absolute belter. Manly have proven they're not all out at sea without Tom Trbojevic and are in with a huge chance to re-assert their top 4 credentials with a win over the benchmark side of the competition. The character of these two sides that's been shown in recent weeks sets this up as a very close game.
Last meeting: Round 12 2019 - Panthers 15 Sea Eagles 12
Who to watch: It'll be very interesting to see how Cade Cust backs up from his man of the match performance last week. The stand in five-eighth will be looking to impress Des Hasler in the hope of nailing down a permanent promotion. Last week he made 4 tackle breaks, 2-line breaks, a try assist as well as scoring a try of his own. A repeat of that showing will go a long way to Manly winning and Cust becoming a regular feature on team list Tuesday.
The improvement of Panthers lock Isaah Yeo in 2020 has been something to behold. Despite not receiving the same accolades as his forward teammates, Yeo has probably been one of the Panthers most vital players this year and it continued last week. He ran for 170 metres off 19 hit-ups and made 3 tackle breaks as well as a line break. He also made 33 tackles, the most of any Penrith player. After last season for him was riddled with concussions, it's great to see Yeo making a fist of regular first grade appearances.
The favourite: The Panthers are favourites to remain at the top of the ladder with a victory against the Sea Eagles.
My tip: In front of a TV with the game on or at the ground itself is simply the only place to be on Saturday night. Both sides are understrength, but that has only evened the ledger and the form of the Panthers and the Sea Eagles over the last two weeks has made this a mouth-watering matchup. Logically, the Panthers should come away with the points, however I'm concerned with how they'll cope with the absence of Api Koroisau against a stronger opponent and feel that Manly will be up for this one at home. Couple that with the fact that Penrith haven't lost for 5 weeks and are probably due for one, I can see this game ending in an upset. Sea Eagles by 6.
1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 19. Dylan Walker 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Danny Levi 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lachlan Croker 15. Corey Waddell 16. Sean Keppie 17. Taniela Paseka
1. Caleb Aekins 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Stephen Crichton 21. Charlie Staines 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 18. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 20. Zane Tetevano
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Chris Butler, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Beau Scott;